The local daily paper was once at the heart of every community; now it seems that the smallest publications are most vulnerable in this time of change and uncertainty within the media. So, how does your average local daily keep up nowadays? The answer, according to the findings of a study conducted by Joy Mayer, a fellow of the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI), seems to be community engagement.
The findings of the study show that 50% of U.S community daily publications with a larger circulation, those with a weekday and weekend circulation over 25,000 copies, plan to increase their community engagement in the next year, whereas those publications with a smaller readerships did not plan to increase community engagement. It would appear that if you want to draw in the readers, it's also necessary to listen to interact with them.
This echoes what Anette Novak, editor-in-chief at Norran said when speaking at WAN-IFRA's Summer University in Paris. This Swedish success story, along with the Dutch hyperlocal news service Dichtbij and one of its American counterparts Everyblock, show that interaction with the local community, particularly through online media, are the key to making local news services commercially viable.
It seems that traditional methods of engaging with community are still thriving in the U.S., 91% stated that they did play an active part in the community by sponsoring community events, but is this really enough to make local press relevant in the digital age? While 84% of editors asked use social media to interact with their audience, only 54% use social media to interact with their audience 'very often'.
The study presents some interesting contradictions in the editorial mindset of such publications: while 86% claim they have conversations within their organisations about making the news more social or participatory, there seems to be a reluctance to prioritise the idea of media as dialectic between publication and reader, as only 51% admit that being in conversation with their community was 'very important'.
Yet more surprising is the fact that 90% receive web analytics reports, but only 49% use this information to make decisions regarding what stories to cover. This indicates that while digital media is almost universally recognised as an important part of the news industry, editorial practices have not change in response to ever growing significance of all things 'on-line'.
Ultimately, it would seem that despite the potential to increase circulation, for U.S. community newspapers, the potential to engage with their audience via digital media remains, for the most part, unrealised.