Research: The Digital Transition of Local News

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Local news organisations are investing in a digital future, restructuring newsrooms and diversifying business models, a new Reuters Institute report finds.

Local journalism remains valued and trusted by audiences and many local and regional media organisations are optimistic about the future of local news, the study of news organisations in France, Germany, Finland and the UK found.

Yet the transition from print to digital has also presented challenges. Some outlets have been forced to close bureaus or consolidate as they seek new sources of revenue and target new audiences.

Most are also competing with platform companies such as Facebook and Google for advertising, while also relying on those companies to reach online audiences.

…We’re a business. We’re trying to keep the Examiner going for future generations, and the only way we can do that, because people aren’t buying as many papers any more, is getting people on our website,” said Lauren Ballinger, executive editor, Huddersfield Examiner.

Findings:

  • Local and regional news organisations are investing in a digital future, including creating digital first newsrooms and adapting to audience needs.
  • Local media groups are experimenting with revenue generation, including implementing paywalls or paid subscriptions, events, members clubs and e-commerce.
  • Like many news organisations, local and regional outlets compete for advertising with platform companies such as Google and Facebook, but also rely on these companies to reach online audiences.
  • Pace of change varies between countries, but all news organisations in the sample still focus on their print product for revenues, while acknowledging the need to transition to digital.
  • In the overall local news landscape, some local news outlets have been forced to shut bureaus or close completely, while others have consolidated.
  • Local or regional media groups that have consolidated report belonging to a larger organisation provided greater access to relevant expertise and digital tools necessary to build their online presence.
  • Some news outlets report difficulties attracting and retaining young reporters: local media perceived as “not cool”, and wages are lower than at larger media organisations.

The report identified three distinct strategies being pursued by local media parent companies and individual titles and groups to engage audiences and produce and monetise news in the digital age:

  1. National scale – emphasises economy of scale pursued through the acquisition of a portfolio of different titles; emphasis on drawing online traffic and ads-based revenue.
  2. regional breadth – This approach also emphasises economies of scale but focuses on developing a more focused portfolio of editorial and other offers for a particular, often contiguous, region. Emphasis on paid content models.
  3. local depth – these organisations remain editorially and financially powered by their communities and regions — reporting on smaller geographic areas and in many cases relying on local advertising. Also emphasise paid content models, particularly premium content.

Joy Jenkins, co-author, said:

“Local newspapers, like other legacy media, are facing major challenges and no longer hold the dominant market position they once did.  But the newspapers in this report are also developing innovative ways to respond, from paid solutions journalism to collaborating with other newsrooms on digital initiatives to diversified business models, including in-house marketing firms, custom publishing, and events. They also enjoy a level of recognition and trust from their communities that will no doubt aid their continued transition.” 

Co-author Rasmus Kleis Nielsen said :

“Local news is incredibly important for making sure people are informed about their communities and empowered to engage in them. It is also clear that the business model based on advertising that historically has funded local news is seriously challenged today. That is why it is so encouraging we have identified several different examples of how local newspapers are working to reinvent their journalism and their business to adapt to an increasingly digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environment.”

The Digital Transition of Local News is based on 48 interviews, conducted between November 2017 and February 2018, with editors, reporters, and commercial directors at newspapers, and editorial and commercial executives at their parent companies in four European countries: Finland, France, Germany, and the UK. We chose two similar-sized local or regional newspapers in each of the countries: the Huddersfield Examiner and the Kent Messenger (U.K.), Kaleva and Etelä-Suomen Sanomat (Finland), Westfalenpost and Main Post (Germany), and Ouest-France and Nice-Matin (France). We also interviewed representatives from the newspapers’ parent companies.

Click here to read the full report.

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