Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

“‘Engagement’ will get the respect it deserves as the center of excellence within local media organizations, not an offshoot concept that is often disregarded and undervalued.”

Local media will recognize in 2021 that, in order to be trusted and sustainable, they will need to operationalize their whole organization around understanding who their local community is, and what news and information offerings that community wants and needs.

They’ll need to come up with creative strategies to deliver on those needs, fund them, and market the unique value proposition they have of serving a community, which will always include providing critical information and holding the powerful accountable.

And they’ll recognize that the window of time to do this is extremely short, thanks to our deteriorating information landscape and the proliferation of dis/misinformation and propaganda.

In order to do this, local media organizations will constantly ask themselves versions of these questions:

  • Are we relevant? Is the majority of what we produce rooted in a deep understanding of our community’s critical information needs and interests?
  • Are we reflective? When the community looks at the staff and leadership in our organization, do they see themselves?
  • Are we read? Are people interested in reading (or watching, attending, listening to, etc.) the work we are producing? Do we truly grapple with the fact that, if we’re only consumed by a tiny percentage of our community, we may still produce powerful and impactful news, but might not ultimately be effective at our jobs?

Not nearly enough people outside of journalism and media know about the existing brands and organizations that live in this space, especially the local media organizations that have launched in the past decade. That’s in part because local media has not been able to do what successful businesses outside of the industry have done — getting to know their markets and consumers deeply. In doing so, an organization can design outreach and engagement efforts that build diverse funnels of information users/readers, contributors, and donors that then increase an organization’s brand and presence in the local community.

By starting with the community, relentlessly pursuing a relationship with them, and understanding what it means to serve them in diverse and meaningful ways, local media organizations can become civic pillars in their markets. The mere mention of their name will elicit recognition, respect (given their pursuit of transparency and truth), trust, goodwill, money and loyalty.

Decisions about coverage and products won’t be solely based on what a few people at the highest levels of editorial leadership think is important for the rest of the community to know. Decisions will be based on being accountable to the community’s information needs and interests first; a large percentage of coverage decisions will come from what is uncovered. As time and funding allow, media organizations will also seek to understand what gives communities joy and meaning and will design news and informational offerings that facilitate meeting these meaningful and important needs as a pathway to civic news literacy.

“Engagement” will get the respect it deserves as the center of excellence within local media organizations, not an offshoot concept that’s often disregarded and undervalued. It will be understood that having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community. The organizations that operate in these ways should get the recognition and help that they have earned, given their position as the leaders local journalism and media can be modeling themselves after.

We are seeing exciting momentum in this space as local news organizations across the country address these questions and action towards solutions. Whether it’s in Vermont, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, or Oregon (organizations I work with through the American Journalism Project), there’s a movement taking place in local nonprofit news that will continue to grow in 2021. Media and news organizations that are rooted in a specific place, have their community’s back, and study and encompass the best aspects of what building brand loyalty means, will lean into being relevant, reflective, and read by the people that make up their market.

By doing so, they will not only operate as critical information and news providers but, most importantly, as trusted facilitators of community cohesion and health for years to come.

Anna Nirmala is a vice president at the American Journalism Project.

Local media will recognize in 2021 that, in order to be trusted and sustainable, they will need to operationalize their whole organization around understanding who their local community is, and what news and information offerings that community wants and needs.

They’ll need to come up with creative strategies to deliver on those needs, fund them, and market the unique value proposition they have of serving a community, which will always include providing critical information and holding the powerful accountable.

And they’ll recognize that the window of time to do this is extremely short, thanks to our deteriorating information landscape and the proliferation of dis/misinformation and propaganda.

In order to do this, local media organizations will constantly ask themselves versions of these questions:

  • Are we relevant? Is the majority of what we produce rooted in a deep understanding of our community’s critical information needs and interests?
  • Are we reflective? When the community looks at the staff and leadership in our organization, do they see themselves?
  • Are we read? Are people interested in reading (or watching, attending, listening to, etc.) the work we are producing? Do we truly grapple with the fact that, if we’re only consumed by a tiny percentage of our community, we may still produce powerful and impactful news, but might not ultimately be effective at our jobs?

Not nearly enough people outside of journalism and media know about the existing brands and organizations that live in this space, especially the local media organizations that have launched in the past decade. That’s in part because local media has not been able to do what successful businesses outside of the industry have done — getting to know their markets and consumers deeply. In doing so, an organization can design outreach and engagement efforts that build diverse funnels of information users/readers, contributors, and donors that then increase an organization’s brand and presence in the local community.

By starting with the community, relentlessly pursuing a relationship with them, and understanding what it means to serve them in diverse and meaningful ways, local media organizations can become civic pillars in their markets. The mere mention of their name will elicit recognition, respect (given their pursuit of transparency and truth), trust, goodwill, money and loyalty.

Decisions about coverage and products won’t be solely based on what a few people at the highest levels of editorial leadership think is important for the rest of the community to know. Decisions will be based on being accountable to the community’s information needs and interests first; a large percentage of coverage decisions will come from what is uncovered. As time and funding allow, media organizations will also seek to understand what gives communities joy and meaning and will design news and informational offerings that facilitate meeting these meaningful and important needs as a pathway to civic news literacy.

“Engagement” will get the respect it deserves as the center of excellence within local media organizations, not an offshoot concept that’s often disregarded and undervalued. It will be understood that having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community. The organizations that operate in these ways should get the recognition and help that they have earned, given their position as the leaders local journalism and media can be modeling themselves after.

We are seeing exciting momentum in this space as local news organizations across the country address these questions and action towards solutions. Whether it’s in Vermont, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, or Oregon (organizations I work with through the American Journalism Project), there’s a movement taking place in local nonprofit news that will continue to grow in 2021. Media and news organizations that are rooted in a specific place, have their community’s back, and study and encompass the best aspects of what building brand loyalty means, will lean into being relevant, reflective, and read by the people that make up their market.

By doing so, they will not only operate as critical information and news providers but, most importantly, as trusted facilitators of community cohesion and health for years to come.

Anna Nirmala is a vice president at the American Journalism Project.

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