Don’t bemoan your predicament: Localize the news

by | Oct 1, 2009 | Recent Writing | 0 comments

Publishers’ Auxiliary/October 2009

Survey community newsrooms and two frustrations are likely to surface with some regularity. Staffs are searching for substantive content on a slow news day, and they’re chagrined that the “big” stories are in that day’s statewide press.

Editors need not despair. The answer to their predicament is certainly not novel: Localize your stories.

The process is straightforward and fruitful. Consider the ideas gleaned from a recent edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, an hour from my hometown of Red Wing, Minn.

From the front page

“The time for games is passed” – Health care reform is at the forefront as President Obama promotes an initiative being met with mixed reaction. What are the perspectives of those in your community? Take the pulse of health care providers, insurance providers, employers and citizens, those with as well as without health insurance.

“’Sold’ signs point to a market on the mend” – The slumping housing market has been synonymous with the national recession. Initial indications that the economy is on a rebound provides a platform to survey the local housing market from the perspective of real-estate brokers, lenders, individuals looking to sell a house and first-time home-buyers.

From the metro section

“Recycling takes off – if it’s simple” – The update on a suburb’s experiment with a new sort-free recycling service reflects the growing number of initiatives across the nation. Explore local recycling ventures. Why or why not are they working?

From sports

“It’s part of my life” – Opening week of the NFL season provides numerous story lines across the nation; none is more prominent than former Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre coming out of retirement to play with his former nemesis, the Minnesota Vikings. The NFL is synonymous with motherhood and apple pie as evidenced by the pastime of fantasy leagues. Engage a local panel to share predictions weekly and invite reader feedback.

From money and business

“Banks on the brink” – Banks are failing at the fastest pace since the savings-and-loan crisis in the early 1990s amid the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. What is the health of banks in your community?  Visit with a random sample of commercial and residential customers to gauge their levels of confidence.

Those are the primary newspaper pages, but don’t forget about the special sections.

Arts and entertainment pages preview everything from new and old faces in the artistic community to the entertainment calendar and what books top the reading charts. Do you have similar opportunities– for example, a list of the most popular books being checked out at the local library?

Travel sections offer ideas that can be pursued immediately or archived for future use. Are there favorite fall leaf tours in your region? Survey travel agents to find out the most popular cold-weather getaways for local residents. How many newspapers invite residents to share their travelogues?

Newrooms should regularly brainstorm how to localize stories. Staff meetings are opportune to review and plan more in-depth projects: for example, interpreting the pros and cons of a school funding formula being debated at the legislature, or analyzing the impact of federal stimulus dollars in your community compared with other regions.

The exercise to localize stories should always be top of mind, however. Editors and reporters should review all materials with a critical eye or ear – whether a guest commentary from an advocacy organization, a blog entry or other missive on the Web, a story in the state’s major newspaper, or a radio or television broadcast.

The first question should always be: What does this mean for your readers? Some ideas will lead to dead ends, but many will lead to substantive stories that are interesting and a “must read.” Additional analysis may lead to excellent local editorials, too.

And don’t forget immediacy. The Web allows community newspapers to be nearly on par with their daily counterparts with the ability to pursue and post the “local angles” in quick fashion. A more detailed report may be written for the print edition.

Localizing stories is an age-old practice, and one that is too often forgotten. It won’t resolve all editors’ headaches, but the content will go a long way toward ensuring community newspapers remain a vital part of your readers’ lives.