Monday, May 08, 2006

Saving Local News

One of the things that doomed me in journalism was my misguided belief in local TV. I'd cut my teeth at a local radio station covering zoning board meetings, town board meetings and local events. I saw the effects announcements about jobs could have on the long-time residents in Binghamton, and truly believed that local TV could, if it wanted, make a difference.

The reality is, I care about a fire on my street but don't really care about the one two towns over. It may look great on TV and provide scintilating video, but it certainly doesn't offer me anything that has to do with my life. The sad fact is, I don't really watch local TV news much any longer.

But I still care about local journalism. I read the Newton, Mass. paper on a regular basis and lamented the day that two became one. Now it appears that the Herald has sold CNC (the group that runs my local paper as well as a number of others in the Boston metro area) to a midwestern group. There's some speculation on what it will mean, but I'm pretty sure that journalism will probably change, I'm sure some papers will be consolidated and others will lose staff. If you haven't noticed the speed with which newspapers are shrinking, then you haven't been watching.

But I hold out hope that this could mean great things for local journalism. Why? Because people DO want to know what happened next door, and people like Lisa Williams of H2oTown will keep them updated. Maybe more people will find these sites. Or better, maybe the sites will start doing more promotions.

Also, it's possible that the new owners will look to online as a way to distribute content that may not otherwise pay to print. So they may be willing to pay freelancers for coverage of smaller villages that otherwise would go without news coverage.

There's a problem when it comes to "local news," however. How do you define "local?" In an article this month in Commwealth Magazine, WBUR General Manager Paul La Camera tells Dan Kennedy "I just believe that if we’re going to make as full a contribution as we ought to make to an informed citizenry, part of that has to be local reporting."

But that means Massachusetts. Sure, I care about the race for Governor, and perhaps I care about some of the major power brokers in the state, but do I really care who wins in Holyoke? Not really. Even for public radio, however, audience size means something, so you need critical mass in order to make it all work.

But what does this mean on the PR side of things? Any time there are fewer outlets, it's a challenge, especially for those campaigns such as medical devices and drugs that focus on local programs.

But if people turn to the online world for these stories, then it's just another outlet.


Amy said...

Wonderful posts!

I thought I'd forward this one to you that you'd be interested in:

I, too, become less interested in local news. Invariably it's a car wreck along a stretch of highway that experiences at least one fatality a week (so it's no surprise to discover a tractor-trailor overturned), or a shooting in the very small part of town that is known for drug activity. Since any sane person who's been living her for a few years knows not to go on that part of the highway, or visit that rather distinct part of town, I don't see why anyone takes interest.

But it's because of big flashy lights, the words "shooting!", "fatal crash!", or anything similar that justifies the cost of taking the chopper up to take pictures.

But you raise a really good point. I need to think a moment about what exactly prompts me to watch local news. The weather perhaps?

Lyss said...

Just this morning I was just thinking that very same thing about local TV news and fires....

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Thanks Amy!

The shootings I can understand more than the fires. Reporters sometimes try to put those more in perspective and talk about crime in the neighborhood, gang activity, etc.

Another one that gets me is the weather. Sure, it's important, but does every snowflake need to lead the news? At one station we had an internal joke: Deadly Drizzle!