Local journalism: Tips and Tricks to drive growth
Journalism has been around for as long as communities have. It’s grown into a system of its own and supports the lifestyles of individuals significantly. From TV reporters to RSS feed, the news threads along with careful and relevant details that form the perspective of the general public.
From penny press to premium subscriptions, journalism has come a long way. But before we get into finding out how readers got picky about the content they consume, we should ponder about why news is relevant. How does one build relevance? Can it be narrowed down to human interest stories? Demography? Nature of job?
What is local journalism?
Local journalism can be explained as news from the immediate geography that surrounds you. In very basic terms “it’s information that comes from your locality”. It could be your district/town/city/village/panchayat.
Local journalism is actively contributed by the community members. The stories hold extreme relevance and are popular for the very same appeal. Now because local news doesn't hold a global appeal, it is quite endangered.
Some of the strongest work in local journalism
While local journalism goes unnoticed on several occasions, there are bodies dedicated to ensuring it gets the attention it deserves. PARI network is a classic example of this in India. PARI covers stories from the rural realm of the country. It gives voice to farmers, nomads, villagers, and communities and shares stories like never before.
For bodies like the same to exist, it is important to be backed up with revenue. Advertisers or biased parties don’t make it to the list of sponsors so the end money has to come from people who actively pay for local journalism.
1. Rising from rust
It was a focused series from a Richland source. It looked into northern Ohio, the “rust belt” region of the state with a fresh perspective - that of potential.
Local reporters Tracy Geibel and Brittany Schock covered questions around what the rise in the healthcare industry meant and what other communities could learn from this example. They covered these ideas and tried to maintain a thread between the history of the state and it’s present. They also painted the scenarios of other cities and used the true potential of journalism to bring an impact to communities across the nation.
The project got a lot of support from partners and stakeholders. The series also included a podcast and saw a community engagement which led to receiving the award for “Best solutions journalism project” in 2019.
People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) is a popular digital publisher that covers extensively rural India and helps bring the public's attention to the issues faced by the people. PARI is the brainchild of the popular Indian journalist - P. Sainath, who is an strong voice of rural India.
Although over 60% of India’s population belongs to the rural regions, the coverage received isn’t wide. PARI covers stories as narrow as the single life stories of people to broader problems faced by communities. The efforts are run based on funds received and the attention is focused on ensuring that authentic stories from the most remote area make it onto the screens.
They also provide stories in different languages (5-7). This allows a broader reach within the country as it’s quite popular for its diversity.
Bringing communities together
Local journalism compels leaders and journalists to narrow down their efforts where it’s needed the most.
Communities deserve an important role in local journalism. It’s where the medium proves it’s the essence - “voice to the voiceless.” Communities often hide centuries of history and “binge-worthy” content amongst themselves which may or may not hold value to a larger population. Often this is due to a lack of platform and mostly due to improper approach.
Local journalism allows narratives to rise from the smallest of communities. The stories that may seem insignificant on a border spectrum, often hold significance in the lives of smaller communities. However, zooming in allows you to listen to stories that are authentic, important, and empowering.
Communities voicing their efforts, issues, and daily struggles allow maintaining a healthy democracy, and aware public, and a more empowered audience. It helps bring the smallest troubles out in the open, aiding a gradual growth.
Other communities also feel empowered by reading about others. This helps bring a richer view or perspective. Communities can gather or unite based on their struggles and raise awareness towards a cause.
Raising donations for a good cause, bringing attention to systemic oppression, or even bringing forward a human interest story can play to the advantage of the general public, especially the community.
Current sources for local newsrooms - Social media
If community journalism appears to be low on the mainstream paper, don’t let it scare you. The social media networks are very active with their content. With cheaper smartphones and data packages, a good that has come out is access for all. This democratization helps readers to hear stories from the most “insignificant” areas.
From community radio stations to Instagram reels on events such as floods, deforestation, loss of property, have all come to the forefront. Social media has beautifully brought forward stories from the audience.
The reason for the popularity can be a couple of things, such as -
The ease - uploading content on social media is easier than ever. The consumers aren't expected to write down a document or go to a specific person/ office to get their stories out. The dissemination is super easy. With more touchscreens, the learning curve isn't much.
The features are easy to grasp and there’s usually a trend going on to jump on.
Anonymity is an easy one. With over a million netizens on the internet, it’s easy to be a part of the noise. Twitter is a good example of people coming together to discuss everything from politics to advertisements. For some causes the crowd mentality aids the generic good, it’s important to seek balance.
Reach - While one can have handwritten letters sent to authorities, with social media it’s just faster. You don’t have to wait for approvals or delayed posting. With enough hashtags, you can get people to listen to your content and then have the authority pay you attention as well.
Tips and Tricks to drive growth for local journalism
1. Post 8-10 stories a day
There was a time when posting around 10 stories every day was a game-changer. You can have 5 stories instead but 5 really good ones.
Consumers pay attention to the content now. This means that if you’ve written 5 really good stories, they have a better chance of getting you traffic than 10 diluted pieces.
That is to say, that regularity is always going to be key. Going MIA isn’t what’s expected from a content creator. If you’re stuck with a few stories then feel free to show “behind the scenes” or smaller progress updates to your consumers so they know something is in the making.
With local journalism, an easy way to play around is perspective. Find dynamic people and let them narrate their version of the same story to you. This helps you cover the story well while also having an interesting point of view through all the stories.
2. Research more
As you find with any minority issue, it is important to dig deeper. Generalizations are not a friend. It is important to have a team that is dedicated to research. Cross-checking facts and histories are essential.
Usually, the information to back up stories takes a while to discover, having a team can be helpful.
3. Build trust within your community
Being a constant source of information is important but being dependable should be the goal.
Local journalism must aim to create a positive change. While the goal is not always a revolution, there needs to be a constant sense of purpose behind each story. From bringing forward stories that help minimize the social divide to smaller stories that are relatable to the public. One must also attempt to strengthen news and information supporting civic needs.
Using technology to your advantage can help you target content and audience better. This would help anybody looking at a particular location find stories that you’ve published. This helps provide information while also drawing enough attention.
5. Use the voice of the locals
Local journalism shouldn’t be one fixed thing. Use the voice of the locals in different mediums - podcast, radio, stories, videos, images etc. This adds flavour to the stories while also making it more authentic. You want to explore all channels to drive in traffic that may be inclined to one or the other.
Local journalism may have an unsteady journey in media but it will never truly be devoid of the value it provides. It’s the steady support of any community. With over population on the rise and a repeated bias for homogeneity, local journalism holds immense significance.
Modern day publishers need to be equipped with the right support to bring out the essence of the stories. With the right technical support and the right goals, local journalism will grow as the most authentic source of documenting the history of communities.