How Local Journalism Can Help Marketers Interpret America

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: How Local Journalism Can Help Marketers Interpret America

Photographers and writers exhibit a skill that empowers others to comprehend the story behind their work and experience deeper empathy for the subject. Two such pieces detail separate sojourns across America -- This Land, by photographer Jack Spencer, and City Makers: American Futures by national correspondent forThe Atlantic, James Fallows, and his wife Deb. Each work is successful in providing local perspective that is not discernible at a national level. Both demonstrate that a collective view of the U.S. cannot be achieved without deeper inquiry and familiarization of its individual components. As marketers rely more on data and artificial intelligence to detect and actuate consumer engagement, it becomes more important to compensate for the diverse set of variables that exist in local markets. Aggregation without acknowledgement and incorporation of local market dynamics is insufficient.

Despite an increase in content and distribution channels, today's technology has enabled smaller contingents the ability to control social discourse. This can skew underlying sentiment and create distortion without counterbalance. Local journalism has an opportunity to promote this important perspective and mitigate potential algorithmic bias.

The role of local news is to provide stories that contribute local relevance that would otherwise be excluded. Although the profession has suffered revenue and staff cutbacks as a result of digital disruption, there is a contextual need to preserve and expand this diverse cross section of local information. Story curation, expert calibration and a new product framework offers an opening for local journalism to expand its business model.

Thirty years ago, marketers dedicated more time to local markets and devised ways to insure that they remained relevant to residents and adaptable to the community. Local perspective mattered and market messaging was important to building trust. Over time, this skill has lagged due to the complexity associated with expanding media choices and the perception that geographic segmentation is obsolete in an interconnected world.

But place does matter, and no matter the delivery platform -- the consumer who receives the message is still influenced by events in their local market.

Several factors make this a pivotal time for local journalism to build a new practice that can service marketers and deploy applications to industry and professional groups.

Census 2020: Although the formal collection is years away, it is expected to reveal consequential changes that define U.S. demographics. Individual market differences will vary significantly and could be altered further if new immigration rules reduce or restrict the current pattern. Data collection will take time to demonstrate the overall impact but local journalists and their relationship to communities already provide context in real time.

Localism: Cities have become more resourceful since the great recession in establishing new program funding sources that are not dependent on federal allocations. Motivated to build local prosperity while serving a diverse set of needs, local leaders are also creating collaborative initiatives across public, private, civic and academic institutions. It is a trend that primarily favors business and services that recirculate benefits back into the local community (go here for more background).

Data Expansion: Local data access will continue to expand as local governments and municipalities implement open source and smart city initiatives. There are still concerns in balancing citizen privacy with open government that may alter release structures and the ability to mine data. Guidance and regulation will remain with local governments and could vary considerably during these formative years. As front line reporters of these changes and challenges, local journalists provide a valuable information resource.

These trends in tandem with the economic, social and cultural makeup help frame a local community. Capturing and distilling this information into a format that provides clarity around these issues will allow marketers the ability to identify and contrast subtle cues that could have consequential impact on their business.

Local news organizations have an almost exclusive competence to develop a product that enables better interpretation of these local variations that define America.  One advantage is the access to deep local reporting of diverse subject matter around the elemental features that define each city. At present there is no competitive service, but advancing new product development will need investment and industry collaboration to be successful.

Expanding current practices and servicing new business will require leadership, product framework and a dedicated team and advisory group to review existing assets and establish timelines for each development phase. Local media groups with extensive news operations are in the best position to establish a manageable plan and collaborative network to build out some of these new products. However, it should not deter any organization from moving forward as commitment will be critical to advancement.

Reframing capabilities around existing assets can lead to successful outcomes but will demand structural additions to improve service to new industry sectors and professions. Broad story curation and community expertise can provide incentive to expand internship programs that embrace university and high school partnerships for content collection and contributing analysis. It also perpetuates renewed innovation through community participation.

Local journalism has an opportunity to reinvent its position with marketers. Getting started and mapping out a viable business plan will take time, but the most important step is to embrace the concept and push this idea forward.

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