Something for Everyone: Are you meeting the information needs of your community?

Author:DeRienzo, Matt
Position:Industry insight
 
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There are news deserts within the core coverage areas of daily newspapers in the U.S. Admitting it is the first step toward solutions that could include digital subscription models and a broader view of how to meet a community's information needs.

What should be considered a "news desert?"

Well, there are some basic elements to a citizens relationship to their community. Paying taxes and having access to some basic knowledge about how that money is spent. Operation of the public schools, priorities around public infrastructure such as roads, sewers, public health and safety. The state of the local economy, and the health of the business community.

There are small to midsized towns in many regional newspaper markets that have no journalist covering town government, or the schools, or stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Public safety is covered in that someone will show up if there's a murder, or fatal car accident, or bizarre or funny crime of some kind. But that's it.

Increasingly, they're not served by a weekly newspaper, either, in some cases because the chain that owns the daily long ago acquired all of the local weeklies in the area, merged or squeezed news operations and sales staffs, then shut them down as the business declined.

If the right circumstances exist (i.e., a laid-off journalist with enough savings or income from a spouse to take the plunge), some are lucky enough to have a homegrown local online news site spring up to fill the gaps.

But there are few options for bedroom communities that lack a retail base that could support something like that, or for towns that are too rural or neighborhoods too urban to be deemed attractive in the eyes of newspaper publishers.

I'm not sure publishers think as much anymore about how adequately they're serving individual communities vs. overall survival metrics.

That might have to change soon, because of a shift to digital subscription revenue that presents both a problem and opportunity.

The problem, in both towns that are only covered when there's a murder and a range of communities that are underserved: Why would I pay for a monthly subscription for regional coverage, and the occasional salacious, usually negative, story about my own town, when day-to-day news that affects me as a citizen, taxpayer and parent goes uncovered?

The opportunity is that individual communities are addressing their own information needs without newspapers. It's happening in neighborhood Facebook groups, town...

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