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The Tiny Footprint of Local News Online

The audience for local news online is surprisingly small.

From Lost Remote (one of my favorite blogs):

A new report commissioned by the FCC discovered a “surprisingly small audience for local news traffic.” How small? Less than one in five news pageviews goes to local news sources — that’s a combination of newspaper sites, local TV sites and large independent news sites in a given market — and the average user spends just 0.45% of total internet time consuming local news. To make matters worse, local weather and traffic — staples of TV coverage — are becoming ubiquitous, built into every device, every search engine and increasingly, every TV set and cable box.

The stations (TV stations in this analysis) with the largest local news footprint generally created this impact not with local news but with something else.  For example, Salt Lake City’s KSL won the first mover advantage in online classifieds, beating out Craigslist.

All this illustrates an important point that is one of my regular themes:

Just because we’re famous for something on-air doesn’t mean we will be famous for that same thing online.  Our fame in one venue provides trust and relationships between our brands, our consumers, and our advertisers. Solving problems for those constituencies and leveraging those relationships in new media venues becomes our opportunity and our challenge.

So how to explain the thin appeal of local news online?

There are generally two things people care about: what everyone is talking about, and what’s happening to them. Local news is caught in the murky middle. For decades, they’ve tried to tie local news to national events (“The tornado in Joplin: could it happen here?!?”); the web has allowed media to move closer and closer to home. In fact, this is where Facebook and Twitter shine: your curated community sharing news that’s important to you, as an individual.

Don’t miss what I think is the key point here – another of my regular themes:  There is technically “no such thing” as local.  There’s what everyone is talking about and what’s happening to you.  There is, in other words, international and national news, there’s the sensational, there’s the neighborhood, and there’s the personal (including the family).  Unless you’re talking about local sports, there is “no local” per se.

So does this mean you should not attempt to provide local news on your website?  No, but it does mean you should not expect to drive huge audiences because of it.  Instead, your focus should be on solving problems across your digital platforms that relate to the needs of the community of consumers you serve.  Not the locality, but the actual community of people.

And for you public radio stations out there, I hope you read those last sentences twice.

As Lost Remote concludes:

Local news isn’t just about covering and distributing stories, but enabling connections and solving problems — for advertisers, too.

You bet.

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