The future of Local News - A digital-only perspective (Part 1)

Many newspaper publishers believe (finally) that the future of their business is online. Trinity Mirror recently announced the closure of seven local newspapers with the loss of 50 jobs (Nov 2014) in favour of digital propositions. Simon Edgley, managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern, described the move as a “bold digital-only publishing transformation” for a “digital-savvy audience”.

Digital News

Whilst many digital-savvy observers saw the writing on the wall for traditional newspaper publishers as early as 2006, the transformation into a modern multiplatform publishing operation has, until recently, not been taken seriously due to the belief that shutting down well-established titles and replacing them with an online news presence unattached to newspapers will not generate the revenues needed to sustain a workforce of sufficient size to provide a decent news service.

The compromise it seems is going to be the retention of some traditional printed newspapers (with assistance from organisations such as the BBC who will look to ease the financial burden on local newspapers by sharing more of its content) and the introduction of multiple digital-only local news solutions.

According to the Ofcom News consumption in the UK 2014 Report:

There has been growth in the number of people who use the Internet or apps for news, with over four in ten (41%) doing so in 2014, compared to just under a third in 2013 (32%). This is particularly evident in the 16-34 age group, where use of Internet or apps for news has increased from 44% in 2013 to 60% in 2014. Use of Internet and apps for the 55 and over age group is much smaller at just 21%.

Men are more likely than women to consume news through any internet or app (44% vs. 39%).

People in the AB socio-economic group are more likely than those in the DE socio-economic group to consume news via the internet (58% for ABs vs. 25% for DEs).

Since 2013 there has been an increase in the number of people stating a website/app as their most important news source (21% in 2014 vs. 14% in 2013). Almost half (45%) of 16-24s say their most important news source is a website/app, up 15 percentage points since 2013 (30%).

Local news is of personal interest to 42% of over 55s compared to 20% of those aged 16-24. Almost three in five (58%) UK adults say they follow the news to find out “what’s going on in the world”. The next most-cited reason is to know “what’s going on across the UK” (56%), followed by to know “what’s going on in my local area” (49%), then to know “what’s going on in respective nations” (46%) and “because I feel it’s important to keep informed about certain issues” (42%).

Thirteen per cent of UK adults say they use a tablet for news. This is more likely among those aged 16-34 (15%) and 35-54 (17%) than those aged 55+ (7%). One in five (21%) of UK adults say they use a mobile phone for news, rising to two in five 16-34s (40%), 21% of 35-54s and 4% of those aged 55+.

Younger and older age groups find different news topics personally interesting. The weather is the topic that both 16-24s and over 55s find most interesting (42% and 54% respectively). Among the 16-24s, specific news categories such as crime, sports, technology and science/environment fall into the top ten topics, while the over-55s are more likely to nominate, general world news and UK and regional current affairs. Local news is of personal interest to 42% of over 55s compared to 20% of those aged 16-24.

Taking all of the above into consideration, we could conclude that:

1. Procuring advertising revenues from local businesses will become more competitive as new players enter the local marketplace. Free open-source CMS/website building software such as WordPress and associations/partnerships with local bloggers make it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the scene.

2. Traditional print publishers will become more aggressive with their advertising strategies in order to retain their share of the advertising pie. We should expect to see greater investment in local newspaper portals, development of dynamic advertising solutions and attractive ‘bundle-style’ ad products offering a print plus digital plus other proposition. (Other could be a PPC strategy, web solutions package or app).

3. The use of the Internet and apps as a means to digest news is increasing year on year. On current trends, as many as 70% of people will access news this way by 2019.

4. Investment in different styles of information delivery should be considered. The situation exists where the largest group of Internet and app users have the least interest in local news and the smallest group of Internet and app users have the greatest interest in local news. Is it possible to grow both audiences via one platform?

5. The number of people accessing the Internet via mobile devices is growing and will continue to grow. Therefore, all propositions must be fully responsive e.g. they work perfectly on PC, netbook, tablet and mobile phones.

The Target Market for Local News portals is:

1. 16 to 34 year old people via focus on local crime, local sports, local technology and local science/environment issues.

2. +55 year old people via focus on local news and local current affairs.

3. 34 to 55 year old people – A combination of the above.

The perfect way to deliver news of interest to individual web users is to produce an app such as the BBC app and allow users who download the app to choose which topics they are interested in.

Topics should include: Schools, Family, Health, Regeneration, Crime, Property, Arts, Business, Sport, People, Columns (Features & Analysis), Local Info, Jobs, Technology, Science, Environment, Entertainment, Health, Motors, Dating, What’s On, Shopping, Food & Drink, Music & Nightlife, Travel and Kids.

Major publishers now offer apps as standard. Not doing so will alienate certain groups e.g. readers aged 16 to 34 years old.

Digital Marketing

Editorial Mission:

Local digital-only news publishers require an editorial mission. Many do not have one believing that this is a print-only requirement.

Your editorial mission defines what you’re going to talk about and share as a content creator. It becomes the filter you pass all your content creation ideas through.

Having an editorial mission allows you to become more focussed and less stressed about what content to share with your readers e.g. do you share UK news or focus on local news only?

The editorial mission should:

• Articulate your approach to the content and industry.

• Clearly define who the content is for.

• State how the content will satisfy the needs of the readership.

Your editorial mission will become the core of all the content you create, and also needs to become a rallying cry for your team, and something for your readership to believe in, it is also the benchmark on which you are judged by your peers.

Next article - The future of Local News - A digital-only perspective (Part 2).