As public relations professionals, it’s imperative we know what’s going on with the business of news just as much as we keep up with what’s covered by the media. I recently sat down with University of Oregon journalism professor and Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Damian Radcliffe to pick his brain about the future of local news. Let me tell you, if you want to know about local news, Damian is the guy. Damian hails from the UK, has lived all over the world researching, writing and teaching about news and journalism. He’s been in the Pacific Northwest for the past two years and has some fascinating insights about the future of the news industry around the world as well as here in the Northwest. Here are a few things I learned from our recent conversation:
- Local news isn’t all gloom and doom. Damian recently co-authored a survey of 400 local news reporters and found that local news journalists are optimistic about the future of news. While the economics of the news industry is uncertain, journalists feel confident because people and communities need local news and that’s not going to change. Additionally, we haven’t seen too many new players emerge to take over local reporting, although some promising hyperlocal examples do exist.
- Social media and messaging apps are growing sources for news. The biggest challenge for local news is the economics of newspapers and broadcast stations. In large part, it is due to the migration – of audiences and advertising revenues – to Facebook and Google. This is causing news outlets to explore subscription-based services, pay walls and other types of income streams, such as events. It’s also encouraging local reporters to try new ways of engaging with audiences using platforms like SnapChat and Instagram.
- More people are paying for their news. The news media this year has received what’s called the “Trump Bump” — increases in subscriptions and donations from news supporters — particularly among younger audiences. This tells us more people are seeing value in paying for their news in a similar fashion to paying for music on Pandora or movies on Netflix.
- Successful local news outlets know their audiences. The editors and reporters who are committed to getting out in the community and engaging face-to-face with their community members, businesses and local leaders are getting some great content. Caitlyn May, editor of The Cottage Grove Centennial does a weekly meeting in town at a local coffee shop and encourages the community to come out and chat with her. This gives her stories that really connect and work with the Cottage Grove community.
- Digital platforms can help local news media deepen relationships. When time is of the essence, publications look to digital channels to convene forums and gather information. Many reporters such as Gordon Friedman of The Oregonian tweets requests for story ideas on Twitter. The Seattle Times has also done Google Hangouts for editorial meetings and The Oregonian has experimented with Facebook Live.
- Meaningful connections with journalists lie in substance and a little elbow grease. As a reporter, Damian offered me the following advice for building relationships with reporters:
- Don’t blind pitch. Journalists have a low B.S. threshold, so know what you are talking about.
- Research the audience of the news outlet. Don’t pitch something inappropriate.
- Know what the reporter cares about and tailor the pitch accordingly.
- Find out how each reporter likes to be contacted. For some people it’s via social, others it may be the phone or email. (Damian prefers email or direct messages on Twitter.)
- Understand that a journalist isn’t necessarily going to just tell your side of the story. They may look for other perspectives (including conflicting ones) too.
The discussion with Damian tells me that large-scale transformation in the news environment is bringing about new opportunities for reporters, their audiences and PR professionals like myself. It’s exciting to think about all the ways we can learn about and engage with our community through the power of local news.