Local news in the digital age


By Shawn Dobbs, Contributor


Newspaper sales have taken a one-two punch in recent years, first from the Internet and then from the widespread availability of tablets and other mobile technology. Local newspapers have been hit especially hard, as many don’t have the resources to develop quality web sites and mobile apps. Many are wondering if this could be the death of local news as we know it, and I’m here to tell you it is. But it is not the death of news itself, only of its traditional presentation.

National newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have the resources to stay afloat during this period of transition. They can take a loss for a few years while they figure out a new business strategy. Local papers don’t have that luxury. Local papers need to adapt quickly to the changing environment and take full advantage of the opportunities that mobile technology offers, and integrate that with their paper strategy.

The face of local news is going to change. It has to, or risk going out of business altogether. It’s not that local news is going out of style; people care about local news just as much today as they did 10 years ago. If anything, it’s that local news isn’t local enough.

Mobile technology has given us the means to instant gratification. Mobile technology is a selfish technology. Try taking someone’s iPhone from them just to mess around with it a little bit and see the reaction you get. Our phones and tablets are an extension of ourselves. They are personalized and tailored to our individual wants and needs. This is what users expect, and this is what we expect from any app on such a device, especially an app that is supposed to be “local.”

For local news to capitalize on new technology, they must deliver what customers expect. Local news outlets must become hyperlocal, delivering stories tailored to a specific audience. The customer wants to feel like the stories were written for them specifically. Instead of subscribing to newspapers as a whole, expand coverage of each section and allow customers to subscribe by section. The subscription immediately becomes more relevant to the consumer. 

Convenience is another feature offered by mobile technology and expected by consumers. Doing simple things, like displaying the day’s weather or traffic in the morning, would make life more convenient for subscribers and would go a long way towards building a successful mobile newspaper. It would also attract subscribers.

For years, the news industry has operated on a one-size-fits-all strategy. The industry is changing, and it’s up to news outlets to change with it. The standard model, while still workable, is not sufficient on its own. The industry must innovate at the same rate as its consumer base in order to stay relevant, and taking full advantage of the features and services mobile technology offers is the place to start.