Local news, local knowledge

I was interested in Oliver Luft’s article in this morning’s Media Guardian following the release of the first official ABC figures for regional newspapers. He found that there were massive fluctuations in the amount of traffic to newspaper websites each month, with high points in January and July largely as a result of speculation about the football transfer window.

This got me thinking about what other local issues could be used to drive traffic, especially among people who wouldn’t otherwise visit their local newspaper’s website in a million years. The logic behind this, and tell me if I’m being naïve, is that if regional newspapers can give people who wouldn’t normally read the news online a reason to visit the site, they just might come back for more.

This ties in to an interesting post by Steve Yelvington a little while ago, which talked about the threefold functions of a local newspaper: as town crier, town square and town expert. One of the possible strategies of survival in the current climate could be making local newspaper sites more than just providers of news, turning them into hubs of information about the local area which people would use on a more regular basis than just logging on to check the headlines every so often.

So what other local issues might actually attract an audience to the website? There are the obvious ones, like having a topic page devoted to schools in the area, which could gather together articles about education and be a useful resource for parents looking at schools for their children. But the real target would be people who would never think of looking at a local newspaper website. So for teenagers, there could be listings and reviews of local gigs or plays along with a blog written by a band that’s based in the area. For the so-called silver surfers, there could be ideas on volunteering opportunities or information about local societies looking for members. Some of these exist already but they are often not updated for months at a time, thereby defeating the whole purpose. These are just a couple of quick ideas but I’m sure there are plenty of better suggestions.

I know there is a growing trend at the moment towards hyper-local sites that target small sectors of a larger local population, but I wonder if they will ever really gather enough attention to come close to earning enough to sustain themselves. Surely a better way would be to have one website under a single, well-recognised brand (namely the local newspaper) which has a comprehensive range of information on hand for different sections of its readership?


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