There’s been a great conversation on Poynter’s Online-News list about the value and relevance of local news.
What follows is what I posted to the list
Local news is a niche. It’s a vertical.
This is good news for local newspapers, because one of the things the web does best is help you create verticals.
Your local vertical won’t ever achieve 100 percent DMA penetration. That isn’t the goal of any vertical strategy. Being vertical means you reach the people who are passionate about that subject and make them loyalists; and you provide all of the hooks to keep infrequent users coming back often enough. If you do a really good job, you help engender some passion in formerly infrequent users.
To any local news site manager who has spent any serious time analyzing his or her traffic metrics, he knows there is a core group of loyalists who hit his site frequently. This is good news, because it gives us a place to start and gives us hope that local has some value still.
The goal behind a good local vertical strategy is to increase the size of your core audience, because for most local sites the current core audience size is too small for significant revenue opportunities.
Good verticals require great ownership. By that I mean, when you own a vertical, you should be the master of that subject area.
For a local vertical, you should have all the news (the most complete, comprehensive, up-to-the-moment source). You should host all the conversations. You should have lots of video. You should have all the related databases. You should have all the related links, even links to the cross-town rivals formerly known as your competitors (turn them into contributors by linking to their stories and videos) You should have all the advertising related to that niche, and nobody should want to advertising anyplace else because you so own your vertical.
I see too many local news operators coming to the web from a newspaper perspective, and treating their local sites as they treat their newspapers. Newspapers are appropriately and should remain horizontal packages, containing national and world news, crosswords, Dear Abby, etc. A good vertical has nothing it it that isn’t related to that vertical. For a local news site, for example, most of what you get from AP is not only useless, it’s harmful to the vertical brand. And you sure as hell don’t need Dear Abby on your local site. Now, if you can find the local Dear Abby ….
Because you own your vertical, everything you do should be distributable across the web. This gets to Mark Choate’s issue about being part of multiple communities. We can’t guess at all the communities an individual belongs to, so we should help our users customize their own web experience by disaggregating our own content. We should atomize everything we do so it is mixable and mashable.
Distribution helps drive traffic back to your vertical (thereby increasing the odds of finding and converting more loyalists).
Your stuff is going to get distributed anyway, so you might as well control as much as possible the methods and terms of distribution.
There is no reason that distribution can’t carry advertising with it.
Because local is a niche, the local media company formerly known as the newspaper can no longer rely just on local as its core competency, if it wants to significantly grow revenue. It must expand into other vertical areas, thinking well beyond just news, but getting to the interests of people in their community and attracting audience from people who may not care about news, but they really care about high school sports, or NASCAR or growing roses.
And the great thing is — because you’ve made your own content distributable, you can distribute content that fits into more than one vertical across all appropriate verticals, achieving the benefits of scale.