January 30, 2004

Local, Local, Local

A study done for the organization Consumers Union as part of its challenge to the FCC's new media ownership rules confirms that the future for most American newspapers lies in their ability to produce quality local news.

The point of the study, according to a Reuters story, was to argue that the FCC "overstated the importance of the Internet and radio as a source for local news and underweighted newspapers when it revised rules to permit companies to acquire more radio and TV stations."

While not engaging in that argument except to say the more competition is better than less, the numbers in the Consumers Union study (read the whole study here) are interesting:

 Local newspapers are the first mentions of 57% of the respondents compared to only 15% for national news.
 Television drops from 62% (for national news) to 27% (for local news).
 The Internet drops from 10% (for national news) to 2% (for local news).
 Radio is constant at just under 10% for both national and local news.

This means - and I am going to oversimplify because I'm heading out the door - that newspapers will live or die on how well they reflect and connect to their communities, something that can only be measure in the amount and quality of local reporting.

Of course, readers want celebrity news and national sports and business news, but the news and commentary and information and interaction they cannot get from most other media sources - at least for now - is decidedly local, everything from the heavy-lifting, transparent society stuff like watch-dogging the scalawags spending the public dollar down at city hall to the chicken dinner snippets about soccer teams and pets.

Editors perennially wonder what it is readers want. Ask them and they'll tell you: Local news.

Posted by Tim Porter at January 30, 2004 08:09 AM

Reinforcing this anecdotally, here in SOCAL, the Orange County Register serves a county of 3 million. According to their editors, the most read part of the paper is the daily city scan that has a two-to three sentence report from each of the 34 cities in Orange County.

On Thursdays the Register publishes individual local editions that tell local news of every city , eg the Huntington Beach Wave. Not only are these individual papers highly popular, but people read every single word of these editions, including the letters, human interest stories, school news, school sports, et cetera. The rest of the paper gets far less attention.

Posted by: Aeolus on January 30, 2004 08:50 AM
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