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Editor & Publisher - 2021-10-01

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Building better bonds

AUDIENCE ROUNDTABLE

By John Newby

Building better bonds: Local news businesses benefit when they have local community partners Iread a great quote the other day by David Brinkley. He said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” We could easily substitute the word man with news media company, instead. While some of our wounds have been self-inflicted, news media companies have had plenty of bricks thrown at us in recent decades — the advent of the internet, industry consolidation, economic stressors, supply chain challenges, the growth of corporate chains, local newspapers shuttered across the country, and of course, a global pandemic. That’s a lot of bricks. But it’s time to take those bricks and build something better, more innovative and stronger, a next-generation local news business model that serves the community in some traditional and new ways. Tap into resources Austerity rarely leads to innovation. To transform operations and business models requires investment. Investors may be just outside the front door — individuals, institutions or even local government. I recently discovered how media companies might leverage funding by local municipalities. That’s the case in Decatur, Georgia, where the city is investing $25,000 in an incubator program, enabling local online businesses to open storefronts downtown. Perhaps that’s an opportunity to build brand recognition and buy into the city’s value proposition. News media businesses might also tap into seed monies raised through community grants or private donors and investors who see the link between a sustainable local news model and the thriving, vibrant community it serves. There is significant and mounting evidence that a town or city without a local newspaper suffers fiscally and that corruption abounds. Communities need local news publishers as much as local news businesses need the support of their community of subscribers, their audience. I was also intrigued by a story I recently heard about newspapers that had repurposed office space, turning them into gathering places, complete with beer and wine service. Again, it showed initiative and creativity and an openness to welcome in the community. Be the resource Consider the opportunities that might unfold if news media companies reinvested in themselves — perhaps dedicating space and resources to offering marketing, advertising and promotional services to other businesses in the community. Local businesses could benefit from our expertise in content and storytelling, driving revenue, digital marketing and audience building. What might that new business model mean to the news organization and its shortand long-term profitability? How might we help other local businesses flourish, grow and become more fiscally sound? In forming partnerships, the community, local businesses, and news media organizations can drive the local economy. Together, they can build a sustainable future, with local companies better equipped to keep commerce right in town, rather than to allow it to be sucked out of the community by online retailers with no skin in the game. In this partnership, it remains the news publisher’s fundamental duty to inform the community and provide insight into its economic and educational needs, to tell the stories of local people, local places and local businesses with the understanding and intimacy only afforded by local journalists reporting on their own communities. When local news covers stories in this way, it inspires respect from the community, who enjoys and responds to the content. Now is the time to rebuild the foundations of our local news businesses and the communities we serve. ■

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