For local media, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time.
There’s plenty of pain across the media landscape – culture website The Outline laid off all its remaining staff writers just last week – but it’s perhaps most acute for journalists close to home. The legendary Village Voice – an institution among New York journalists – shuttered just two weeks ago. This followed the end of the New York Daily News as we know it just months before, while elsewhere in the U.S. the Sacramento Bee and San Antonio Express-News were just two among many local outlets making deep cuts to their newsroom staff earlier this year.
Globally, local media is also a fraction of what it used to be and will fundamentally never be the same. Britain has lost at least half of its local journalists over the last decade as local news – once a vital resource for media consumers – has lost its luster. Advertising dollars and changing reader habits have lured media companies inexorably toward corporate consolidation and digital-first reorientations.
Yet despite what may seem like a daily onslaught, if you look closely there is a glimmer of hope – at least according to new insights from Ogilvy’s Media Influence survey.
Among more than 350 of the world’s leading journalists, almost 60% believe local media needs to change its model to survive. Like the industry at large, local journalism has been massively disrupted in the last decade and the pace of change has not been easy.
But these challenges also present an opportunity to reinvent local media and redefine the category – and a potential lifeline. While the convergence of the digital age, social media and consolidation have changed the game, it’s the players – resourceful, smart, tireless and innovative journalists – who still remain the backbone of the industry.
As outlets like The Village Voice and Gothamist vanish (the latter albeit now resurrected in Chicago), we’re seeing more global networks and publications launching “local editions” in until-now untapped markets – everything from Quartz Africa to the BBC’s Pidign, a new language service for digital platforms in West and Central Africa colloquial dialects.
In this new world, local outlets will need to lean in on their local edge to stay relevant – producing unique, niche and engaging content that cannot be easily or remotely replicated. In fact, Bloomberg just reported that 70% of consumers trust their local news more than they trust cable outlets. Yet the same report found that as local journalists vanish, civic engagement like voter turnout appears to be in decline.
That means local media may have to embrace partnerships with new media, as some broadcast stations are already doing with Cheddar Local, the online streaming network which has also launched a traditional cable TV channel.
This offers local journalists an opportunity to leverage new platforms where their expertise and knowledge is valued by both advertisers and consumers. WeChat in China is an interesting example of this shift. The dominant social media network in the region is investing a lot of money in original journalism and paying reporters significantly more money to produce quality content.
Ultimately, whether consumers care about news happening next door or across the continent, they’ll find the sources they trust to keep them informed. As evidenced by the Los Angeles Times’ ongoing post-Tronc rebirth as “a multimedia leviathan of independent, innovative journalism” (with Tronc being the parent company of the recently-depleted Daily News), local media will certainly live on – just not the way we’ve always known it.
And with an influence-driven model charting the course for the future, perhaps change could be a good thing. In other words, the future for local news may look bright after all – even if that bright future looks different.
Jennifer Risi is the worldwide chief communications officer for Ogilvy.