Hyperlocal Focus: Prioritizing Knowledge over Speed

By: Terry A. Yates, Jr | @GroupNewz | tyates@newzgroup.com

With Facebook’s recent turn to nurture local news sources, polls saying that people really value their local news sources, an age of hyper-personalization gaining traction, and apps using location data to deliver relevant local news, it seems as though hyperlocal focused news is all the rage right now. Why the sudden change?

Blame it on social media feeds being used to originate and propagate “fake news”, the utter ubiquity of said feeds being predominantly filled with friends’ news or algorithm fueled interests. It could just be the start of a new cycle. More sinisterly, it could be another resource for Silicon Valley with which to drain under the guise of seeking a common good of supporting local journalism. Nevertheless, as we have stated repeatedly, people just need to know what is going on in their own backyard.

People all over have already begun to lead the change in focus, filling the void of the shuttered town newspaper, and thanks to technology, can do it with scale. The one major shortfall is that these smaller outlets are usually run by a singular person who cannot physically cover the news as a traditional newsroom full of reporters can. In addition, there can be ethical standards as they probably do not have the proper training, the problem of getting that news to stand out in an ocean of clickbait, “fake news”, and algorithms that fail to aggregate it properly. As with prior elections, local news is a set to be a target for misinformation, the need for real journalism on the local level has never been more paramount.

In recent month’s Facebook has brought up the term “news deserts” as they found they could not properly aggregate enough local news to fulfill their Today In initiative. Alarmingly, Today In’s system only pulls links that are shared on Facebook so this may explain why they are finding an abundance of deserts, as they’re not even bothering to look deeper. Instead, they are attempting to fund local news back to prominence with grants and supporting publishers in said deserts. Never mind these deserts likely came about due to Facebook and Google alone gobbling up 60% of advertising revenue, some of which has traditionally gone to local news, keeping them in business.

More troubling is the notion that these tech companies failed to realize that the news that they fill their feeds with has to come from somewhere. With the diminished utilization of locally sourced news, these feeds began to be filled with content from clickbait sweatshops with dubious quality if even that. How often have you clicked a headline only to discover that the bulk of said news is predominantly in the headline with the attached image being bigger than the block of text that follows it?

This quickly brings in to focus the laziness and diminished standards wrought from such clickbait sweatshops that are just vying for clicks to make ad money. You soon realize how something like “fake news” can quickly gain a foothold and have a very transformative impact on society and culture, led more by the speed of “right now” instead of prioritizing knowledge.

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With The Internets being of such speed that yesterday’s news may as well happened a billion years ago, the value of quality news that takes time has taken a real hit. Further, local newspapers, that only publish once a week (if not less), cannot hope to gain traction. With the length of time being such, trying to fit slow rolling local news into some sort of algorithmic fueled constant stream of a feed seems Sisyphean. In fact, one-third of Americans live in places where Facebook can’t find enough local content to keep their Today In initiative going, hence the need to support local news. The digital evolution of newsprint to online and E-Editions has at least helped close that gap somewhat, but it still cannot compare to the expediency of “right now” and being first that The Internets has fostered over the last two decades.

Now more and more people are stepping back from the information overload and searching for manageable content. Instead of trying to keep all the hot takes and navigating the noise, they are embracing the slower pace of solid, in-depth content that local news often provides. There is now a way people can consume all the news that they want, in their own time, without the FOMO kicking in from refreshing a seemingly infinite newsfeed.

More promising are publications trying to help readers by letting them follow topics and journalists that interest them. This approach allows readers to not only follow the content that they will truly enjoy, but it also cuts back the noise and promotes the benefits of less screen time overall.

However, the major hurdle to the slow news trend is that people need to pay for it. Moreover, if they are not willing to physically pay for it in their own backyards, surely they will not pay for it in their digital front yards. They’ve gotten their news for “free” for as long as they can remember, often not realizing that they’re paying a much greater price with their personal data in the long run. That often never comes to mind as the content and information that truly mattes, that used to utilize ad revenue, now needs to be paid for by the people desiring it.  There are some positive developments as more and more outlets are charging for their content, often going for subscription or pay-per-view models, with a significant rise in digital subscriptions over the last few years.

As we have for over two decades, Newz Group will continue to focus on supporting hyperlocal news with our media monitoring tools, like our Newzroom, and other services. Indeed, larger outlets do not bother with newsprint, and cannot surmount paywalls that newspapers charge for their online content. Often these said outlets view local and more specifically rural news, as unimportant and not worth the effort. With all due respect, we disagree mightily, and will always be about Helping You Find You.