Feb 2, 2009

Local newsroom organization (3): what is the basic news that local media needs to cover?

To summarize the first two posts about the organization of a local media, we have seen that:
  1. It is possible to do quality local coverage mixing pro and am (local correspondents + experts) content.
  2. Main form: digital. Print is also a possibility in some markets but probably not daily.
  3. Central piece of the online presence (not the only one): an aggregation of blogs (journalists + local correspondents + members of the community).
  4. Every journalist is in charge of a community mainly using existing tools like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Wiki, Google agenda... (see also Beatblogging experiment).

Also, all of these ideas are still in progress, I'd like to talk now about what to cover and with whom. Once again, it is not a definitive and unique organization. Just the first step of our thinking:
  1. Local news. Hard to put numbers here for the team because it depends on the size, the population density and the economic activity of the geographic zone covered. But, it is where we are going to use the network of local correspondents. It is necessary to divide the local content in different categories:

    1a- Accidents and crimes - Need some good reporters here. Possibility also to put together mash ups with the police departments and the firefighters (like Everyblock Chicago for example). Local correspondents can also contribute a lot to this "section".

    1b- Local government/politics - Maybe the most important piece of the local coverage to make sure we follow not only the public money, but also the actions of people paid and/or working for the different communities covered (watchdog journalism). It is where we will put the main effort in terms of coverage and the best journalists. Journalists that can be helped by local correspondents, local experts and citizens.

    1c- Practical information - Schedules for business, government offices, transportation, entertainment, sports events; agendas for associations, non profits, schools, etc.; firefighters, police, physician contact information, etc. In other words, all the practical information you need in your community. No need for journalists here. Local correspondents, citizens, businesses, etc. can fill up the local electronic agenda.

    1d- Local business - The size of the team necessary to cover the subject is clearly going to be very different according to where your local media company is located. Pro journalists can be helped by local experts. What is sure, local businesses deserve better and more "practical" coverage.

    1e- Local education - Like local businesses, local education deserves better coverage. It does not have to be huge. One journalist, with local correspondents and local experts should be enough to cover the issue in most of the cases (like what Gannett is doing with MomsLikeMe.com)

    1f- Special coverage - Local public health issues, local environmental issues, etc. It is always necessary to have a professional team (one or two?) to investigate and to follow important and complex issues for the community, in the long run. Here too, they can be helped by local correspondents, local experts (but not only local) and citizens.

    1g- Local sports - We focus only on local sports coverage. Of course, it can include national level teams. Hard to give a staff size here too because it depends on the number of A teams. But, what is sure is that a lot of content, outside big teams, can be covered by local correspondents and citizens (like: scores, agendas, photos and videos).

    1h- Local entertainment/cultural events - No national coverage on entertainment. There is plenty of content all over the web for that. We focus on local entertainment. Content can be a mix of pro and am (local correspondents + experts), here too. In most of the case, no needs for a large pro staff. One journalist should be enough.

  2. International news. Most of the content, to not say all of it, is commodity news. Why should a local organization invest in international reporting? I see one main reason: because the news affects directly or indirectly the local community and it needs a local "angle" approach, contextual information and/or detailed explanation. For the rest, deals with national and international media, blogs and aggregated links should be more than enough. So how many journalists : one... maybe two. Each journalist manages a community of experts on some key issues (the experts don't have to be local but it is nice if they are). Possible to tap into local bloggers too.

  3. National news. Same idea as international news. Deals with national, international media and blogs (yes! INTERNATIONAL too. It is good/smart to read what others are saying about you). Same team : one or two journalists (maybe three) + community of experts + local correspondents.
This above coverage is the basic level. Other types of coverage can be necessary based on the local specificity. More than one news brand can also be necessary to reach different types of audiences. You don't offer the same content to everybody. Even if part of your coverage can work for different audiences / brands, your hierarchy will be different. Mass market is over. Then, news will not be the only service offered to the communities covered by a local media company (see also Steve Yelvington -- The three primary roles your local website should play). We will talk about it in another post.

We are also not saying that it is an ideal situation. We are just trying to stay realistic in terms of newsroom staff / cost regarding potential revenue for local media.

Next posts:
- Sample of product and services that local media can offer besides news
- Revenue models for local media
and more... please comment, suggest, propose...


  1. Anonymous10:46 AM

    These are nice ideas for the future, but if you think that any newspaper can give up daily print now and still be profitable then you know nothing about the newspaper industry.

  2. @Mark. I am not saying anywhere that they have to drop the print edition. Print is driving 90% of the revenue in average.
    Here, we are thinking about building a local media organization from scratch.