Quick Takes: Going Local

Seth Godin has an idea about how you can introduce your business to everyone in your community. It is a low-cost, high-impact idea.

Why not start a local newspaper?

I know you are thinking about the paper that arrives at your driveway in the morning, that you spend about five minutes scanning and then tossing it in the recycle bin. That isn't it.

I've been writing for our local newspaper off an on for the past ten years. When I first began I was asked to make a presentation to the top 50 managers in the company. Here's what I said then.

 “Newspapers are windows on a community… There is no other place in a community where the whole community can talk to itself. …Newspapers are the only place where all the voices of the community can be heard. “

I was both wrong and right. 

Newspapers are windows on a community, a place where the whole community can talk to itself. At least it was ten years ago, not any more. Or, at least newspapers as they have historically existed.

What happened? The center of communities shifted from an institutional based model to a relationship based model.

Newspapers are community institutions that interpret for the community what is important for them to know.

Today, online communication tools make it possible for people to find the information they need, and to share it with people that matter.

I do very little work in my home town as things have worked out. But my twice monthly column has given me a presence in the community that would be impossible to buy. And as of this month, I'm no longer paid to write it. The newspaper can't afford the coffee money they pay each month. But I'm still going to write for them because the people who read the column are why the column is important.

Yesterday, I walked into the Starbucks a block from my office to get a cup to go. I saw one colleague having a meeting as I walked in, another friend sitting at the bar in an intense conversation, but it was a woman I recognized by couldn't remember her name who waved to me. We got reaquainted, and she introduce me to her friend. Her friend knew me because of the column and was planning to attend the workshop I'm giving - Leading from the Middle - during our Lessons in Leadership even on January 20. I asked her what she did. She told me about her business and invited me out to see it. The next thing I did, because what she told me sounded interesting, was, "When I come out, let me interview you, and I'll write a column on what you are doing. It sounds interesting."

If you start a local newspaper as Seth suggests, you will have a world of opportunities to tell stories about other people. Every person's story you tell becomes your story too. And they are connected to you forever. It is an act of graciousness and kindness to tell other people's story. It is another example of the ethic of giving that informs actions like my Johnny Bunko 7th lesson - Say Thanks Every Day. (BTW, voting ends Jan.15.)

When you start a local newspaper, you are starting a paper, you are creating a tangible connection to your community. You are making your business into a more important node in the network of relationships that exist in your community.

Read Seth's piece again. If you do this you are setting yourself up for a dramatic increase in business once we get through this recession. Plant the seeds now, harvest later.


Why and How Local Journalism Must Change

The world of print journalism has changing.  Last year I submitted an article to a start up magazine.  The owner/publisher has decided that it isn't feasible. He couldn't get enough advertising to even start. The same dilemma faces local news outlets, whether it newspaper or television.  Those highly mature organizational systems are under threat from the outside, and from an outsider that they have been slow to understand. That outsider is the Internet.

Two recent blog postings point to the changes happening.

First read, Doc Searls recommendations for How to Save Newspapers.  These are wise words from one of the Cluetrain gurus.  My own assessment is that journalism has attracted the wrong people into its service. Too many of them are issue driven. Too many are looking to create a story. Too many of them are posers. They pose objectivity when they are clearly biased.  As a result, there is a not only a disconnect with the reading public, but there is a real issue of integrity.  It goes to my contention that I've held for a long time that local newspapers are where the whole community comes together to speak to one another. It should be essential reading for everyone in the community.

The second read is from Terry Heaton who writes about a television station in Nashville, TN. that experimented with live streaming on their website severe weather coverage. The experiment was a success from a visits point of view as 11,000 people/ a whole rating point, went to the site looking for information on the storm.

How, you ask, did they manage a whole rating point worth of viewers without promoting it on the air? This is the web’s law of attraction at work, and it’s something most broadcasters completely miss. The online “audience” is not the on-air audience, and people are a whole lot smarter than we think. They know where to go, because that’s what people do on the web. They discover things on their own and through word-of-mouth.

In this case, WKRN’s NashvilleWx.com has been online for over two years, and it has a considerable following. Not everybody shows up every day, but that’s not the point. It has gained that audience through a steady commitment to quality and service, and it’s there when people want it or need it. In other words, it draws users to it instead of blasting how great it is. It’s evolved into a social network of sorts, because people carry on weather conversations in the comments. This is what I call the law of attraction, and it’s a critical factor in the growth of Media 2.0 applications.

What local papers and TV news outlets must understand is that people's behavior patterns have changed. And changed dramatically. What they expect from local news has changed, and changed dramatically. With the rise of citizen journalist, local bloggers, and weekly competitors who feature only local goings-on, local journalism is no longer what it was, even ten years ago.

Terry is absolutely correct. Loyal watchers of the evening news are not the same people visiting the station's website to get the same information.  This diversity is the wave of the future.  It is why I suggested to the publisher of this tabled magazine that maybe he should consider starting it online so it can find a audience that is not specific to the local community. We'll see where that conversation goes.