I believe 2009 will mark a dramatic change in the way news organizations approach local news. There has to be a fundamental change in how it is approached. People still want news about their community. They still get excited reading about themselves in the paper, and when they send copies to all their friends relatives. That is still there. But what isn’t there is the relationship with the reader.
For community journalism to succeed, readers have to feel a tangible connection with the publication that represents their community. If they don’t, then why bother?
Where the mid-size titles have failed, smaller, online-only start-ups will take their place. Two examples of this come from the Boston area: Universal Hub and myDedham. These are online-only, hyperlocal news sites dedicated strictly to their communities. There are no AP wire stories or attempts to localize a large national story. The story is born in the city.
With tens of thousands of laid-off/semi-retired journalists now idling across the country, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that a handful of them will get their act together and put out an online, hyper-local product all their own.
A recent blog post by Seth Godin points out that it’s not terribly difficult to start a hyper-local publication on your own. In the post he says it’s all about reaching your local audience at a personal level. He’s right — that is critical to the survival of any community news organization.
Hopefully 2009 will be a watershed year in community journalism. The kind of change that affects the entire industry will come from these smaller titles: If it works for this title with their 20k readers, perhaps we can make it work for our regional title with 200k readers.