Why that missing dog could be the lead you need

One of the mantras which have been regularly chanted around regional media offices in the last decade is ‘life is local.’

It’s one that – like many such slogans – has become devalued through overuse.

Which is a shame, because at its heart is the simple truth that we are parochial beings who live most of our non-working lives within a couple of miles of our homes.

Across the country, and indeed the world, entrepreneurial folk have made the most of this by launching highly successful hyperlocal news and community websites.

And not surprisingly, larger, more traditional media companies have tried to get in on the act, with rather more varying degrees of success.

One of the challenges faced by some of these more corporate organisations is to ape the organic, anarchic, idiosyncratic freshness of a real community start-up.

Another is to stay focused on the truly local.

In America, the experience of the hyperlocal news sites set up by Patch is an instructive one.

As this piece says, many of its journalists have now started up their own rival sites after becoming disillusioned with its spending priorities and news judgement.

It has now clearly learned its lessons, as a recent report on Digiday reveals.

It’s less reliant on trying to make national or regional content work across lots of microsites, and more determined to dig down to the stories that individual communities really care about.

That’s a priority worth keeping in mind as we daily hunt out the holy grail of stories that will keep web visitors returning and print readers buying.

One thing really caught my attention in the Digiday analysis.

In days gone by, news editors and reporters couldn’t get off the phone fast enough from anguished pet owners whose faithful dogs had gone missing. Been there, got the #notbovvered t-shirt.

The Patch experience has shown that such mini-crises can be the stuff of web success dreams.

They’ve got emotional appeal, the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God factor, a community call to action, an element of mystery and suspense – and cute animals.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that we abandon either holding councils to account or perfecting our SEO wizardry to throw our lot in with the cats and dogs home.

But sometimes we can be a little precious about where our news threshold lies.

I’ve said before that one of the most important questions to shape our news priorities should be ‘what are people talking about?’

We just need to get better at finding – and listening to – those conversations at the most local level possible.

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