Targeted serious news battles a shift to eyeball candy fluff
Written by Michael Lewis on May 23, 2017
Next week’s iconic Best of Miami edition – focused on leaders in categories ranging from entrepreneurship to business acumen and government – begins Miami Today’s 35th year publishing in the nation’s fastest-evolving city.
Through all the twists and turns, we’ve used our own yardsticks for news to cover a changing economy, community, skyline and cast of characters who arrive from around the globe. At the same time, we have adopted media that we never anticipated 35 years ago – the Best of Miami is in both digital and print formats.
This intersection of professional standards that have not altered and a news panorama and delivery methods that are constantly evolving came to mind Friday when I got the latest Columbia Journalism Review, which is a university’s outlook that in the current issue is entitled “The Future of Local News.”
The authors seem to agree that it will be local news – not generic news of the nation and the globe – that will be most voraciously consumed and most useful. We may wring our hands at doings in Washington or Syria, but the news that’s most likely to affect our lives or wallets – and the place we can get involved – is local.
Yet it is local news, those authors say, that is most threatened by changing economics in which Google and Facebook and others are literally eating our advertising lunch.
Generic advertising locales are cheapest, just as generic news is least costly. Most expensive, the publication says, is reporting what local governments do to or for you. Without paid subscribers and advertisers, the only news that will exist is what gets the most clicks – and that is the flashiest but seldom the most significant. Yet local news viewings in print and digitally now last far longer, each one averaging far more of our reading time.
Much of the beleaguered daily press is trying to meet economic challenges by shutting down standard news beats that tell you how a community works.
The Dallas Morning News told reporters to “jettison any sense of being the paper of record” and look for “obsessions.” Other papers look for what they term “themes” and “ideas,” the kinds of stories that go viral on the web with huge numbers of clicks, and become “relentlessly interesting.”
None of these new mantras mentions community or reader service. They all, in print or on the web, look for eyeballs, with no mention of the necessity that readers get anything at all useful.
Like all these media, Miami Today faces the challenge of maintaining traditional advertising linked to the community, a place where all eyeballs are not created equal. Some internet eyeballs, after all, are halfway around the globe – we get users on our website from an average of 140 nations a month. That’s good for realtors and lawyers and others looking for foreigners, not so good for advertisers who depend on the community they serve.
But unlike other media, we select news not to attract eyeballs but to appeal to brains and hearts and wallets.
For us, news must have long-term impact, appeal to 68,000 educated print readers, help to bind together this community, tell readers things they need to know and use in business or personal life, be placed in perspective locally and globally, be totally impartial and fair and – equally important – be news readers can’t get elsewhere. Most of what we print would never be made public if we didn’t do it.
That uniqueness includes news of government and its intersection with business. Because covering a beat like city hall is time-consuming, most media have stopped doing it. At many meetings Miami Today has the only reporter. How else would you know?
That seems to be a recipe for long-term news success: meet needs as nobody else does. Others would call that a monopoly.
Miami Today’s aim is to produce local news, but in Miami local equals global. Global visitors buy property, then do business and become business owners or investors. Look at our big projects, our largest shopping complexes, luxury residences, port tunnel and far more – their money is from offshore. Governments from around the world set up consulates here. Miami firms work internationally. Is it any wonder that much of our “local” news is also global?
It’s helpful for Miami Today that consumers of real news – especially local news – have been changing. The new consumers of news are Miami’s most educated, most affluent and most powerful. They’re also active – they aren’t here just for sun and sand. If a Tweet about Washington is enough news, you aren’t a Miami Today reader. Our readers want and need to know.
It’s not healthy for our nation that with so many more sources purporting to purvey news, so few are adding unique news. For our community’s sake we wish we did not hold so many news monopolies. But it makes Miami Today indispensible.
Look thoughtfully at the coming Best of Miami. As closely as you may view this community and as active as you may be, we’ll guarantee that you’ll find someone you don’t know doing something you’ll be glad to learn about.
That’s another job we take very seriously: we aim to link Miamians together. We do it every week. That’s why targeted local news is so vital.