Regional papers depend on building communities based on geography. But younger people prioritize interest-based communities. So, how can local and regional papers build new relationships with digital natives?
At the latest World News Media Congress in Glasgow, the publisher of The Globe and Mail Philip Crawley spoke about the unsurpassed value of an engaged local audience. He argued that—while digital engagement metrics provide invaluable data about audience funnels and propensity to convert—there are metrics that are unique to regional media they consider just as important.
He used the example of the paper’s packed obituaries pages to illustrate how a local title can measure its tangible engagement with an audience through non-digital interactions. Ultimately, Crawley made it clear that the worth of a local title cannot be measured through ones and zeroes alone.
Regional titles have long been experts in measuring engagement. These metrics might be tallying attendance at events they organize, counting submissions to the letters pages, or by less concrete metrics like the willingness of the public to interact with their journalists.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily translate to sustainability, even for publishers that have the same drive to reinvest in news products. Whether it’s due to quirks of geography, unpredictable societal differences, or for any number of reasons, local news publishers have been hurting. Investment in the print product is no guaranteed panacea either.
The key issue for many is that they have struggled to find ways in which digital products can serve as a focus for local engagement as print editions once did. Another factor is the often top-down approach from regional publishers who try to use national-level engagement metrics for their regional titles. Crucially, they largely miss those specialist ‘obituary pages’ engagement measurements that are an indication that audiences are invested in a community with a news brand at its center.