The new year brings new opportunities for local media to thrive. Our staff of experts at Local Media Association and Local Media Foundation offers insights into the threats, opportunities, and wishes for local media in 2022.
Responses to five key questions come from our executive team including CEO Nancy Lane; Chief Operating Officer Jay Small; Chief Innovation Officer Frank Mungeam; Chief Content and Collaboration Officer Andrew Ramsammy; Director of Business Strategy and Partnerships Penny Riordan; Director of the Local News Resource Center Emilie Lutostanski; and Meta Branded Content Project General Manager Julia Campbell.
If there’s a New Year’s resolution you wish the whole industry would make and keep for 2022, what would it be?
Nancy: Invest in journalism. No more cuts.
Jay: Repeat after me: “We will stop thinking bright, shiny objects and flavors-of-the-day are meaningful solutions, until we first invest the time and resources to understand our problems and what solutions might be meaningful.”
Penny: I wish all media outlets would take a meaningful look at their video, print or radio archives and review stories that in hindsight are now considered racist or homophobic. We’ve seen some media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and The Kansas City Star take this project on, but more needs to be done.
Andrew: The lack of diversity and inclusion in our industry will continue to be our downfall, while at the same time ethnic media will experience a renaissance in 2022. We need not only to partner and collaborate more with publishers of color, but also to create space at the executive and board level for greater representation of a demographically diverse America. Until our industry understands the moral, ethical, social, and business imperative to a more reflective industry, audiences will vote with their thumbs and their credit cards and support media in which they see their own values reflected back to them.
Frank: The pandemic has accelerated digital and business transformation trends (remote work, online ordering, delivery) across all kinds of industries. For those of us in the news business, it has also been the longest stretch of continuous breaking news I can recall in my career. Burnout is high. I have been heartened by the pivot away from the old “news is tough” mindset toward a recognition that we need to do more to support the mental health of those who toil daily to report the news and serve our communities. I hope as news leaders we can do even more in 2022 to put in place systems of support for the “frontline” works in local news, because what we do for our communities is so crucial.
Julia: My hope is the industry will make a 2022 resolution to keep collaborating. Whether that is in accelerator programs, through conferences and workshops, cohort groups and bootcamps like the Meta Branded Content Project or journalism collaboration like Word In Black or Covering Climate, our local media outlets are stronger when they work together. We need to worry less about competition and realize the benefits that come from mixing broadcasters, print publishers and digital operations to work toward common goals and sustainability. We all get better, faster and stronger by collaborating with each other.
Emilie: Commit to sourcing diversity and be critical of status-quo perspectives from our newsrooms. There are many more than two sides to every story. How we deliver local news will make or break trust with our communities at a critical time in our democracy. This goes for production of news content as well as distribution across all platforms and channels — it must be radically equitable, thoughtfully inclusive, and invite discussion while being firmly planted in fact.
When it comes to reinventing business models for news, what excites you the most for 2022?
Nancy: For the third straight year, my answer is journalism funded by philanthropy. Funders across the nation now realize that local journalism projects are as important as the other areas they fund including arts, education, healthcare and more. We now have many newsrooms that have one-third or more of their department funded by philanthropy. This trend continues and grows in 2022.
Jay: I’m excited to see the momentum we’re carrying into the new year in two areas: one, journalism funded by philanthropy, and two, industry collaboration. These are two of our four strategic pillars because we think both are key components of long-term sustainability for local news media. And both are still relatively new to many local news organizations.
Andrew: I’m looking forward to seeing small organizations acting like big mega media companies on the investment side. I think we’ll see new private investment vehicles that will allow smaller media companies to be bundled together to offer equity crowdfunding or real estate investment trust-like products. I think special-purpose acquisition companies have run their short term and failed course in medialand.
Frank: There is no one silver bullet. I’m most excited about the diversity of business models being developed, from philanthropy-funded efforts, to reader revenue and membership, to collaborative structures. I hope to see even further experimentation because the ‘right’ revenue model depends on your product, your market, and your specific audience.
Penny: Through our Lab for Journalism Funding and the Facebook reader revenue accelerators, we have seen tremendous growth in readers and foundations giving to news. I think we have barely scratched the surface on this revenue. I know publishers in the last year who just started improving their checkout flow to make it frictionless. And they’ve already seen huge results! Imagine where we’ll be at the end of this year when we dig even deeper into reader revenue strategies.
What are the biggest threats and opportunities for local media organizations in 2022?
Nancy: Biggest threat: attracting and retaining top talent. Biggest opportunities: journalism funded by philanthropy, reader revenue and branded content.
Andrew: Adapting to how audiences behave will continue to be both a threat and an opportunity. In the intersection of intersections exists a spot that local media can safely stand in without getting hit or sideswiped by chasing squirrels. And that spot is carefully eyeing patterns and flows and deciding when to step into that traffic.
Frank: A threat that keeps me up at night is the loss of trust in news. Those of us who’ve chosen a path in journalism base all our efforts on the assumption that, with fact-based reporting, we can shine a light and inform people’s choices. There’s been a persistent, corrosive assault on truth and facts that threatens to sever that connection, upon which effective journalism depends. So newsrooms must redouble their efforts to directly engage with people in their community to earn and maintain that trust.
Emilie: The biggest threat as far as engagement and social media is a lack of focus, knowledge, and resources to distribute across platforms in a meaningful way. The biggest opportunity would be for local media to define from their own audience data the most important places to be – and grow into – in 2022.
Going into 2022, what are the worthwhile areas of focus for local media companies?
Nancy: Local media companies really need to examine their workplace cultures including compensation, benefits, paid time off, remote work and more. Staff turnover will be a real issue in 2022 for companies that are not competitive.
Andrew: Local media can’t invest enough in securing talent and leadership that is representative of the audiences and communities it wishes to reach. That requires an investment in time and relationship building and engaging for long-term results and not short-term roster wins.
Frank: I’d like to see more news organizations explore philanthropy as a way to fund the most critical local news efforts, like investigative reporting, where the profit model for support is poor but the civic value is extremely high. Through the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, we’ve seen dozens of publishers have success partnering with local and national funders where they have “unity of purpose” around critical needs like education, government accountability, diversity and housing.
What is your biggest wish for the local media industry in 2022?
Nancy: Industry collaboration. Get rid of the defensive posture and understand that going it alone is not a good strategy in 2022.
Andrew: To be more daring. To be more experimental. To take more risks. To think bigger. To venture into uncharted waters. To fail more but with good reason. To stop using the word “innovation” without actually innovating anything. My apologies to Frank Mungeam. Which reminds me, we need more hats!
Frank: If I’ve learned one lesson from leading the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, it’s that we need to put our audience at the center of everything we do in news, not ourselves. What does our community need from us? What do they critically depend upon us as journalists to do for them and their community? What is our unique value proposition in the community? We get the best answers to these questions by authentically engaging with and listening to the communities we serve. And guess what: If our journalism truly serves a community’s critical needs, we’ll likely have a strong business, too. So my hope for 2022 is that newsrooms can redouble their efforts to put the audience first.
Penny: More media companies participate in collaborative efforts. If your news organization isn’t participating in a collaborative or one of the many industry learnings such as boot camps or accelerators, you’re missing out on amazing peer learning opportunities. One of the biggest areas of growth I’ve seen in managing three of our collaboratives, as well as sitting in on Facebook reader revenue accelerators, is the learnings from other publishers. The more we can share with each other, the more the entire industry will benefit.