2
0
1
9

Local news needs local conversation to survive

“Most people don’t consume news because they want to be more informed about the news; they want to be informed about the news that they’re likely to talk about.”

As 2019 approaches, anxiety about the future of the local press continues unabated. In most conversations about the fate of metro and local news media, the platforms’ near-total takeover of digital advertising comes in for the largest share of the blame. The recent push towards subscription and donation revenues at news organizations has given new hope to many local and niche news producers.

But will subscriptions alone be enough to save local news? I suspect they won’t.

One of the big reasons people subscribe to media is to participate in the conversation that others are having. Newspapers of yore tapped into FOMO well before we had such a handy name for it. Most people don’t consume news because they want to be more informed about the news; they want to be informed about the news that they’re likely to talk about.

Back in 1945, New York City’s newspaper delivery men went on strike, leaving most of the city’s residents without their most regular source of news. Radio broadcasts and newsstand copies were still available, but researchers seized the opportunity to ask people what they missed about their newspaper. And mostly what they missed wasn’t the news — even in the midst of a war.

Much of what they missed was information as a way to maintain their social relationships. “You have to read in order to keep up a conversation with other people,” one person told the researchers.

Social media has changed where we discuss and debate the issues of the day, and the platforms’ push for “scale” has grown both the number of users and the number of connections in our networks. Online, we’re as likely to be talking with strangers or people further at the edges of our “IRL” social network as we are a close friend or neighbor. Offline, it’s uncommon to bump into your geographically distant friends and relatives. Online, it’s almost a certainty (even if they make up a relatively small share of your Facebook network).

It makes sense, then, that we’re likely to see and share more content about national politics, celebrity news, or ideas and issues that don’t depend on geography. Researchers have found that media consumption is increasingly focused on national outlets and subjects. The question is whether it’s the availability of that information or a lack of interest driving the trend. Most of our industry today is convinced that if there were more local news, more people would read it. I’m not convinced. (I’m not alone.)

There’s fairly limited research available today on how local news is shared online; one group of Canadian researchers found that on Twitter, local news wasn’t widely shared. The news that was shared in local networks tended to be highly partisan, focused on opinion, or intended to promote a particular point of view.

Online, the conversation about news has become a national one. Finding ways to rebuild local conversation — not just news consumption — is the challenge for local news organizations striving for sustainability.

Facebook says it’s pushing local news harder in its algorithm, and the growth of more conversation-scale social media — private groups, chat apps — might shift the balance back toward more localized digital conversations. But the biggest opportunities might be offline. Those Canadian researchers? They found that local news that was shared tended to be about in-person events.

Events aren’t new — but the way that local news can (and should) think about them is. The Texas Tribune’s long-running event series on state policy and government has helped build a revenue-generating business that supports its coverage of those topics. Major national publishers host mainstage conferences that generate important cash flow for their newsrooms. But revenue isn’t the only reason local news publishers should think about events; audience development and retention are important, too.

Many of the bright spots in local media today use in-person events to create must-attend experiences that facilitate the sort of social contact or social prestige opportunities that those old-time newspaper readers craved. The newly hatched Block Club Chicago, risen from the ashes of DNAinfo, has 6,000 paid subscribers; they hold public office hours and neighborhood events, aimed at developing their connection to the communities they cover. The Globe and Mail hosts events for its subscribers — some social, some informative, and all of which help reduce subscriber churn; as Kelly Burnett noted at an ONA panel this year, it costs the paper $10 to acquire a new user and just $1 to retain them. Events could be a key component of an organization’s long-term sustainability — even if they’re not revenue generators on their own.

Why do they work? I think it’s possible that events are a chance to create the same opportunities for social contact that people crave in our online world — and local news organizations can play an important role in facilitating those conversations, providing opportunities to meet face-to-face — and, just maybe, we will turn to them for the news and information we need to know to impress our friends in 2019.

Celeste LeCompte is the vice president of business development at ProPublica.

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Hearken   Pivot to people

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections