Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH'S SPIN CYCLE — Local news still drives audience in a digital age

TODD SMITH'S SPIN CYCLE — Local news still drives audience in a digital age

Hand holding a Social Media 3d SphereWhether in a tech-savvy metropolis or a city where the town square is still the communication hub, local news matters deeply to the lives of residents. Across three disparate metro areas in the U.S., nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely – and about half do so very closely, according to a new, in-depth Pew Research Center study, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. About two-thirds of the residents in each city discuss local news in person a few times a week or more.

During a period of tremendous technological change – change that is far from complete – this study takes a microscope to the information streams in three news environments across the United States:

Denver – a highly educated urban area of more than 2 million with internet adoption above the national average and a large Hispanic population (19 percent).

Macon, Ga. – a metro area of 175,000 with a substantial share of black residents (41 percent), an unemployment rate above the national average, and a local university working to serve as a hub for journalism innovation.

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

Sioux City, Iowa – a city that spans three states and has a predominantly white population of just 125,000. These cities are not meant to be extrapolated to the United States as a whole, but rather serve as a set of case studies on the ebb and flow of daily local news that speak to the diversity of modern American cities.

Studying the ways that local news flows in a city’s population requires more than one tool in the social scientist’s tool kit. For this particular project, the Center employed multiple types of quantitative research in each metro area, including a landscape audit cataloging the full range of news providers operating in the area; a content analysis of the actual news output produced over a week’s time; a public opinion survey of residents focusing on their local news habits and civic engagement; and an experimental examination of Facebook and Twitter posts in each area.

Perhaps the most obvious way that local news climates differ across U.S. cities is in terms of volume and choice, the former of which may well have an impact on the latter. Denver’s 140+ identified news providers – including 25 digital-only outlets – is about 2.5 times that of Macon (24) and Sioux City (31) combined. And that seems to have some impact on the dominance of legacy providers in each city. In choice-rich Denver, somewhat fewer residents often rely on local TV for news (58 percent, compared with 66 percent in Macon and 68 percent in Sioux City), though local TV still attracts a greater share of the audience than any other type of news source.

More striking, only a quarter (23 percent) of Denver residents often get local news from their main daily paper, compared with 40 percent of Sioux City residents and 36 percent of Macon residents. This is evidenced further in the sources residents say they turn to most for various local news topics. In Sioux City, the newspaper ranks first in six different topics, while in Denver the same is true of just a single topic area–development issues. Nonetheless, the reliance on nontraditional news outlets is still the exception rather than the norm. In all three cities, the portion of residents who often get local news from neighborhood associations, government agencies or officials, or digital-only outlets is in the single digits.

The study also suggests that some populations are more engaged with their local news stream, and that this holds across a broader range of topics. Macon residents, for example, stand out for closely following most topics at higher rates than Denver or Sioux City residents. Nine out of 12 topics covered – from weather to education to the local economy – are closely followed by at least 20 percent of Macon residents, while that is true of just six topics in Denver and five in Sioux City. This higher rate of interest from Macon residents exists in civic-oriented topics such as education and government as well as local crime. But civic issues resonate everywhere. At least four-in-ten residents in each city say they often discuss local government and politics or the local economy.

So, even in our digital age, local news matters!

5 Critical Tips for Growing Your Social Media Fan Base

Growing your social media fan base is something of an art, but there are a few critical components that will get you noticed quickly and effectively. You are your most important source, so here’s how you can use your time wisely for the greatest impact on your social media footprint.

1. Get in front of people: Think of the digital world as the gateway drug to then getting in front of your fan base at like-minded events and conventions. Press the flesh, meet your fan base, then kick back out digitally and this is how you reach amplification.

2. Test, test, test: The best way to find out what works is to test your market with multiple messaging and find out. For example, learn the art of the “dark post” on Facebook, which allows you to publish ads that don’t appear in your Timeline. You can test multiple different ads without wearing out your fan base on irrelevant content. You can also create lookalike audiences to test your ads against.

3. Create content: Whatever your business, you need to be the content player on the subject, so blog and post articles as often as you can, and become a source for readers in your area of expertise. You can always create your own blog, or contribute to great content sites like Medium, where you can create a custom portfolio of your content and build a fan base interested in what you have to say.

4. Give thanks: Thank your customer base regularly. Find out what your fans care about by following their Twitter pages or content to discover what inspires them and reach out to them directly about their passions. For example, if one of your followers is a Beatles fan, send a direct message about a new Beatles book. By being consistent with giving thanks, you will organically grow your fan base.

5. Be human on Twitter: Post relevant content on Twitter and do it consistently. And it should come from you, not a pre-scheduled post. People do know the difference, and nothing can replace the human interaction.

Distorted Mic | Hillary’s Personal E-mailgate 

Hillary Clinton is back in a familiar place: the center of a political controversy.

The firestorm surrounding Clinton’s exclusive use of private – rather than official – e-mail during her time running the State Department is rapidly escalating, with Republicans and Democrats turning the issue into a political back-and-forth. Clinton is certainly ready to move on, tweeting late Wednesday night that she wants “the public to see my email.”

It won’t be that easy to put this issue aside though, and the State Department has already said the review process will take “some time” before they can release any Clinton emails.

The controversy has echoes of the 1990s when controversies ranging from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky had a way of exploding into a partisan pile-on during the Clinton White House. For that, Madam Secretary, you take a Distorted Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

One comment

Leave a Reply