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In-depth, hyperlocal news is disappearing in cities and towns across the country. In this series, we hear from several different PEG stations that are turning this into an opportunity to become the local news and information hub for their community. Read the first article of this three part series here.
Bringing Community News Online to Reach Cord Cutters
Why distributing news content online and through social media is key to community media’s growth and survival
While it used to be commonplace for people to sit in front of their TVs at a scheduled time to watch their favorite news shows, today’s audiences prefer a connected, mobile lifestyle where news stories find them anytime, anywhere.
This “cord-cutting” poses a double-whammy to community media stations that view their primary mission as delivering hyper-local TV news via their cable channels. Since community media organizations depend on a small portion of the franchise fees that cable operators pay to the cities they serve, a shrinking subscriber base means there will be less revenue for them to use to run their operations.
The solution to this dilemma may lie in the very online and social platforms that are luring TV audiences away—such as YouTube, FacebookLive, and Twitter. To stay viable and competitive, many community media companies are now “slicing and dicing” their news shows and creating fresh video clips they can distribute via 21st century platforms to reach viewers beyond cable TV.
News Consumption Realities
“It’s not lost on any news organization that traditional TV newscasts are all losing audiences, and that passive TV viewing is in decline,”said Nannette Onley Hobson, CEO at Montgomery Community Media (MCM) in Rockville, MD. “No one is sitting there thinking, ‘Let me see what’s on the access media channel.’ News alerts come straight to their phones and computers.
“But, here’s the good news,” she adds, “People are actually being exposed to more news, and taking in more news, than ever before. And, if we don’t feel encumbered by any particular delivery platform, there are opportunities for all. I definitely want to be in that race. With all the media viewing options today, the only way to get our stories consumed is to put our valuable content where the people are – on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram –and make them curious enough to click on that story.”
While MCM doesn’t do a cable TV newscast on their two public access channels, they do produce many local news videos that they distribute online via their website, Facebook, and YouTube. They also live-stream special event coverage, such as elections. Regardless of how their content is delivered, Hobson believes their chief mission is to “discover and report news impacting the local community, especially those stories that other media organizations overlook, to revive the importance of truly local news in everybody’s daily life.”
Farewell Appointment TV
“It’s getting much harder to reach people—particularly the younger demographic—via traditional media, like newspapers and cable TV. If we want to reach and serve everyone in our local markets—not just the 50% that still have cable—we need to put our content online and find effective, strategic ways to promote it,” said Mike Johnson, Executive Director of Northwest Community Television, serving nine northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis, MN.
The company’s commitment to making exclusive hyper-local news content available online and connecting with new viewers was underscored when it recently rebranded its services as “Connected Community Experience,” or CCX Media. Among its online initiatives, CCX Media cuts up their live daily TV news casts and special events coverage into video chunks for easier viewing.
“We proactively promote these stories through email marketing, telling people, ‘Here are some of the great things that are happening in your city right now,’” Johnson said. “While the platforms are different, our mission is still to raise awareness of news and activities so area residents can be more informed citizens and voters.”
With an online viewership exceeding 350,000 views per month, Johnson is confident that their growing online and mobile audience would be of interest to advertisers, and that ad revenue could potentially offset losses elsewhere.
“We encourage sharing of our content, and some of it has gone viral. That’s what’s driving our online audience and future growth,”Johnson said. “Too many community media stations have been doing things the same way for the past 20 years, but if they don’t embrace change, they will be gone.”
Reaching People Everywhere
At NewTV, in Newton Highlands, MA, News Director Jenn Adams agrees that online distribution helps them reach a lot more people, including residents who may be traveling or living elsewhere but want to stay in touch with their home town.
“I can share videos with viewers just about anywhere, and I can send links to people who were covered in our stories, which they can then propagate,”Adams said. “For example, we did a story featuring a company that installed solar panels on many Newton houses, and that company shared the link on their website. As a result, we got more than 12,000 views on YouTube for that one story. That attracts a broader audience beyond Newton, which means more exposure for NewTV.”
Conversely, NewTV also leverages online platforms to enable the public to contribute news content. Occasionally, when people want their event covered by NewTV, Adams will let them send in high-quality video footage they shot of their own events via Google Drive or Dropbox, which can be integrated into NewTV’s weekly, hyper-local “Newton News” cable news show.
Real World Impact
Since not everyone has cable, Larchmont Mamaroneck CommunityTV (LMCTV), in Mamaroneck, N.Y., posts content from “The Local Live” – its weekly cable newscast featuring live news and video packages of interest to Westchester County – on sites like Facebook and Twitter. “This drives interest in the stories, and expands our audience,” said Matt Sullivan, LMCTV’s Executive Director. “Our in-depth local news coverage has already had a positive impact on our community.”
For example, LMCTV’s coverage of the “Green Light NY” initiative helped raise awareness of this potential New York legislation, which, if passed, would give undocumented people across the state access to driver’s licenses, thus promoting greater public safety. According to LMCTV News Director Sibylla Chipaziwa, “Our coverage led to the passage of proclamations by Mamaroneck and nearby Ossining, N.Y. indicating our local towns’ support for broader statewide adoption.”
Chipaziwa notes that viewers watching their programs at home on cable or their website tend to be older members of the community, while their Facebook viewers tend to be younger and not necessarily located in the area.
N.Y. State Assemblyman Steve Otis, N.Y. State Senator Shelley Mayer, and Westchester County Legislator Catherine Parker are among the local officials that regularly appear on “The Local Live” to connect with their constituents. “‘Local Live’ provides interactive give and take, interviews, and conversation that illuminate civic life,” said Otis. “With fewer sources for local information available, community media is vitally important to sharing local news and activities with the public.”
Stay tuned for the third installment of this blog series where we hear from folks who are leveraging their role as a training facility to build a local news production team. Never miss a new post by subscribing to PEG Experts Blog updates here. Is your organization bringing local news and engagement to your community? Want to tell the world about it? Email us with your story if you'd like to be featured next on the PEG Experts Blog.