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May 12, 2017, 11:37 a.m.
LINK: www.cjr.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   May 12, 2017

The latest print issue of the Columbia Journalism Review focuses on local news. The publication is posting the articles online throughout May.

Some digital tidbits:

— As part of a survey of 420 journalists at small (circulation under 50,000) local newspapers across the country (written for Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism), Christopher Ali and Damian Radcliffe asked about the use of digital reporting tools like podcasts, augmented reality, and chat apps. Most of the journalists said they learn about these by reading about them (in places like Nieman Lab!) and teaching themselves. Eighty-four percent of respondents are using video reporting, 67 percent are using live video, and 25 percent were podcasting. (Ali and Radcliffe wrote an early version of their report for us back in February.)

— It can be challenging for small newspapers owned by chains with a one-size-fits-all digital strategy. One respondent said:

Our newspaper has fewer than 5,000 readers. Our personal challenge is that the owners treat all papers the same, daily and weekly, when the challenges are very different. Personally, I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot at our paper by publishing our stories for free on our website, because we have no local competition. We are competing against our own print product with a free internet product that consumes staff time but doesn’t generate a lot of revenue.

— This challenge is echoed in an exploration of Gannett’s 109 local newspapers: “Such daily challenges of logistics and execution come in addition to larger fault lines. Foremost among them: How local local properties remain as they share content and aim for digital reach. Coverage of school board meetings provides few opportunities for cross-publication, let alone virality or virtual reality.”

— Online access to USA Today is free; “Gannett reported in February that it finished 2016 with 182,000 digital-only subscribers across all of its other properties, excluding acquisitions, a 71 percent increase over the previous year. Still, circulation revenue among those titles actually decreased 4 percent in 2016, to just over $1 billion.” And Maribel Wadsworth, Gannett’s chief transformation officer, doesn’t necessarily believe Gannett’s papers will see the Trump bump that publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post have: “I don’t know how much we can think about building a business model on surges of partisan polarization.”

— USA Today’s site, by the way, got 115 million unique visitors in March, “the same ballpark as CNN — nearly two-thirds of which came on mobile devices.”

— Local news sites that have become nonprofits (like The Tulsa Frontier, Rivard Report, and Honolulu Civil Beat) have found they need to attract money from national foundations — in part because they inevitably anger local ones. “Eventually you’re going to piss off the people in town who control the purse strings,” said Steve Beatty, editor of the New Orleans nonprofit The Lens, the nonprofit in New Orleans that specializes in politics and land-use stories.

— CJR published a map of “news deserts” — communities that have no local daily news outlet — but heard from readers that it was incomplete: “Readers are reporting that some papers are not reflected in the map, which doesn’t include papers that either aren’t audited by AAM, don’t have a circulation of at least one percent of a county’s population, or have converted to all-digital publication since 2015, when the data was last updated.” So it’s asking them for feedback and says it will update its map.

— It’s not posted yet, but this article by Liena Zagare, the publisher of Brooklyn local news site BKLYNer, and her husband, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, sounds as if it’ll be a good one: “Your tax dollars at work: How local governments could help create new media companies rather than footing the bill to keep zombie newspapers alive.”

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