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July 1, 2015, 2:32 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: kiesow.net  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   July 1, 2015

Is the digital audience for local news hiding in plain sight?

Damon Kiesow, senior manager for mobile initiatives at McClatchy, thinks local newsrooms are overlooking an important audience as they try to reorient themselves for the future. No, it’s not mobile users (well, not entirely). And it’s not millennials (well, it’s kinda them too).

The audience local publishers are overlooking are those who are living lives online every day and not having their needs met. He writes:

Many newspapers are still built to cover “community” as defined seemingly generations ago as rigid beat structures constrained by geography and by local government services. Advocating a change to that system is nothing new; numerous blog posts have covered the ground. Unfortunately, experimentation has come largely but not exclusively from digital news start-ups.

These days, digital-savvy readers live seamlessly between online and offline. Amazon.com is their local market and Netflix their local theater. The problem is neither Amazon or Netflix are “local” in a sense that is recognizable by local media. But, chances are about 30% of your hometown have shopped at Amazon in the past year. And Netflix has 40 million U.S. customers. There is a reason suburban malls are in trouble and Blockbuster went out of business.

As apps and online services have replaced old roles for traditional media — from Craigslist starting on classifieds to Yelp or Foursquare replacing local dining and nightlife guides — Kiesow argues that local publishers have given up on that territory entirely. Instead of providing these services, local newspapers and other media could act as a bridge, bringing together the stateless digital realms of companies like Uber or Instagram with the real world.

This is likely something local reporters recognize. Journalists make up a healthy chunk of users on Twitter, which puts them in a unique position to see how tribes of locals band together around distinct local hashtags.

Then the question for local media becomes: How do you quantify local lives online, and how do you reach those readers? Kiesow says this is connected to one of the biggest problems facing publishers right now: How do you understand your readership and their needs?

For local publishers, building an audience is increasingly about reaching the hyper-connected as well as “the readers we never see.” “The problem is the news industry has gone for years without needing to examine who its audience is or what they want. And our organizations have calcified to the point that it is difficult for us to even ask, much less answer the question,” Kiesow writes.

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