I’m finding myself wondering what a new spirit of competition will mean for local news.
My research shows that it is finally dawning on newspapers that they can rev up that news engine that invariably is the biggest one in town and, with an increased focus on immediacy, compete with local TV news and radio at a game they have owned for years. Indeed, when I have asked people how their job has changed the most in the last few years, the most common answer is that that newspapers are operating much more quickly and that they have more of a wire service mentality.
Newspaper folks eyes start to glow when they talk about how readers now can come to their Website to get information on how the blizzard is affecting their commute or to get the latest updates on a breaking political scandal rather than relying on television or radio. At a time in which the blogosphere often depicts most newspaper folks as doing nothing more than weeping in their beer over the lost glory days, this actually injects extra enthusiasm in many folks who still remember fondly the days when they counted other local papers among their competition.
This has been obvious of course for quite some time on the national news front, where the networks, Websites and cable are all valid sources of election returns and the like, but I haven’t heard it discussed as much at the local level (I’m probably just missing it).
In terms of managing change, I think that anything that raises buy-in levels for a Web-first philosophy is a good thing; getting the scoop has long been a part of journalism’s value systems, and research shows that it is easy to make changes that are consistent with values. Also, to break news consistently, you have to invest in original reporting, which I think is important.
The potential drawbacks are obvious. The advent of the 24-7 news cycle has made everyone aware that pressure to be first can inhibit the most critical journalism value of them all, verification; some argue that this will push newspapers into doing softer or sensational stories like the crime news that now dominates most local television. It doesn’t have to be that way, though — a lot of it will depend on how newspapers decide to execute their goals of greater immediacy.
What do you think? What will this competition mean at the local level?