Local-Local-Local isn't Enough

19 Jan Local-Local-Local isn't Enough

Yesterday a bright young online sales manager for a progressive mid-market newspaper explained to me that her site visitors were interested only in news from her community and her state, nothing more. “That’s our mission,” she avowed.

Today’s standard mantra is local-local-local, which is an undeniably great focus. Indeed, hometown coverage closely followed by regional news is the price of admission for any newspaper.

However, I have been thinking a lot about how limited newspaper industry goals are these days. It is sad that many papers’ aspirations begin and end with local coverage alone.

For most of the last century, the Chicago Tribune  proclaimed: World’s Greatest Newspaper. There was something charming in the fact that back in the 20th century anything seemed possible. Col. Robert R. McCormick aspired to be the greatest, to deliver the world to his readers. Symbolically, pieces from sites throughout the world collected (some say pilfered) by McCormick are embedded in the walls of the Tribune Tower at 435 North Michigan Ave. in Chicago. You can take a world tour in minutes the next time you visit Chicago by just walking around the building.

Granted at most papers the reportorial staff has been cut to the quick and the news hole cut to the bone. Granted, too, back in the fat, sloppy 1990s many local newspapers depended far too heavily on AP covering national and international news to the exclusion of news of intense local interest. However, the pendulum may have swung too far.

This is especially true when it comes to online.

Most newspaper websites do a pretty decent job of reporting and presenting local news. Again, this is the price of entry, the reason why people visit local newspaper sites. However, local is where many sites stop. Apparently those in charge assume their site visitors would rather go elsewhere for world news or special-interest coverage.

Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the local news site offers nothing other than local news, then customers (site visitors, readers, whatever you want to call them, but make no mistake they are customers) must leave the site to satisfy their wider interests.

The thing is, forcing people to seek information elsewhere is totally unnecessary. Today’s technology makes it possible for any site, no matter how big or how small, to be a very complete source of up-to-the-minute news, trends and views on virtually any topic. So why send people away when your site can be a one-stop shop for local — plus everything else?

The newspaper industry has been beaten down so often and so far of late that local seems to be all that’s possible. The Tribune no longer claims to be the greatest in the world, but it sure was a lot more fun when it and most every other newspaper in North America aspired to be a window to the world. The cool thing is the internet makes anything possible again!

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