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The year of actionable (local) journalism

“There’s a lot of information out there. So what can the average information consumer do with it all?”

2019 will be the year that audiences demand journalism they can act on (and ignore everything else).

Actionable journalism has a measurable impact on audience behaviors. It allows people to make better decisions, like deciding who to vote for in state elections how to adapt a commute to traffic conditions, or even where to eat for dinner. More importantly, it provides more value to audiences than information that is just entertaining or informative.

It’s no secret that the average information consumer is inundated with countless pieces of journalism and, by orders of magnitude, even more pieces of content designed to capture her attention in the moments she is on her phone: listening to her podcasts, scrolling through social media feeds, catching up on email, and browsing through her preferred apps.

In 2018 it is estimated that 2.5 quintillion bytesof data are created each day. (“Quintillion” has six more zeroes than one trillion and is a unit usually relegated to describing things like how many molecules are in the human brain.) Basically, there’s a lot of information out there. So what can the average information consumer do with it all?

Not much. A lot of the information doesn’t make sense. If it does make sense, the information is usually entertaining. Sometimes it’s informative.

It’s not that information that is entertaining or informative is bad, there’s just too much of it. Today’s methods of content distribution over Facebook and social media favor mass distribution to go viral (and make more data), instead of individual distribution to the audience segment that can benefit from that information.

Consumers have to work on their own, with very little help from media publishers and platforms, to separate information that is just entertaining or informative and find the information that is actionable in their day-to-day lives. This is the information that is most useful, and the information that will win consumer attention and loyalty over time.

Two important consumer behaviors observed in 2018 tell us that consumer information needs are becoming increasingly local.

First, the 2018 midterm elections had the highest turnoutsince 1914. 49.3% of the voting-eligible population voted in the election, ending a decline in midterm election turnout that began in 2010 and recorded only 36.7% turnout in 2014.

Second, Americans spent $3.02 billion during Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving where shoppers are encouraged to take their business to independently owned stores in their communities across the country.

The above numbers suggest a specific consumer behavior that probably has always existed, but was obscured by the Internet’s ability to erase geography. The Internet created and incentivized content that could be appealing and engaging to people across cities, states, and countries. All the while people remained active in their local communities, being impacted by, and impacting their, local government, local businesses, local services, and local environment.

And it’s information on these four things, at the local level — government, businesses, services, and environment — that is universally actionable for audience segments throughout their day-to-day lives.

The question is, can we meet this demand?

In 2019 publishers and platforms will have to pay more attention to information distribution, and not information creation. We’re not lacking any of the data needed to report on local government, businesses, services, and environment. But we are lacking the ability to precisely distribute the information we have to the right people who need it.

Each individual in our audiences makes thousands of decisions in their day-to-day. Whoever can send each individual information that will help them make these decisions better will be able to earn the lasting trust and business of audiences for years to come.

Geetika Rudra is a former reporter and founder/CEO of www.theblock.blog.

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