There’s nothing new about the “buy locally” concept. It’s good for business large and small. It’s good for the communities where businesses are located. It may also be cheaper to provide your product and/or service locally. No travel times, shipping costs, or product freshness to consider, when your market is 10 miles away, as opposed to 10,000 miles.
The media, which in recent decades has witnessed mergers and acquisitions, out-of-town ownership, and market competition, is rethinking “locally owned.” As they do, the opportunities increase for local businesses who partner with local media. Rem Rieder’s USA Today column sheds some light on the trend.
In my Western Massachusetts turf, big news was made last month. In 1995, The Berkshire Eagle, the daily newspaper in Pittsfield, MA, had been sold to Digital First Media in New York City. Since then, the newspaper, once a gem, had fallen on hard times. Four local business people have now bought the paper (and some in neighboring Vermont towns) with a commitment to boost newsrooms and local coverage. The community was thrilled.
This local trend in Western Massachusetts, however, began in 2011, when Patrick Berry, a Westfield, MA, native who had gone into national television, returned to his hometown, and purchased The Westfield News Group from a national news syndicate. He changed the newspapers’ focus to local news, people, and happenings, added an online presence, and opened a cafe in the papers’ headquarters, where townspeople could hang out, share news, and meet. The Westfield News Group sponsors a variety of community events; his writers, advertising reps, and staff are locals.
Berry is a champion of locally-owned media. He says, “A local owner is invested in the community: We live, work, volunteer and raise a family in the market. Local information becomes of greater value to a community when the owner of the local media is affected by the newsworthy events that take place in the community.”
Janet Reynolds, a Connecticut-based media executive, has seen the locally-owned media concept work from a variety of perspectives, from her work with The Hartford (CT) and Valley (MA) Advocate Newspapers; Albany (NY) Times Union magazine division, and Take Magazine. Currently, she’s a senior content strategist for Outspoken Media in Troy, NY, and freelance writer/editor.
According to Reynolds, local ownership benefits the media. “Local media owners have a leg up over outsiders or media controlled by outside interests because local owners are part of the community they are covering and from whom they’re soliciting ads,” she says. “Local owners are automatically viewed with less skepticism than outsiders and seen as more vested in making sure the community is successful because they themselves are only going to be as successful as the communities they serve. From the news side, a local editor and publisher should, in the best case, be better able to have a finger on the pulse of what’s vital to the community, which means, in the ideal, they can do a better job covering the news and building solid business relationships.”
Reynolds believes local ownership of media also benefits the consumer. “Local ownership helps ensure that the needs of a community are actually being met, both in terms of the news that’s covered and in creating relationships with the advertisers,” she says. “Having a local media owner can mean, in the best cases, that people feel they have direct access to the media and can help influence what’s covered and have input themselves. Local groups and advertisers can build relationships with the business side of the media, through sponsorships and even, at times, monetary donations from a charitable arm of the media source. While people may not always agree with how the news is covered, everyone can celebrate the fact that the opportunity for local coverage exists.
“Local is always better. Always. An out-of-market owner can never fully understand the news or advertising needs of a community in which he or she is a mere visitor,” adds Reynolds.
When a media group is locally-owned, it’s a small business, looking to make connections with other small businesses. Your ability to reach out to their management, reporters, staff, and your ability to support them as opposed to a national entity, forges a partnership that may get you better news coverage for your business, more favored advertising rates, and the other benefits of collaboration, sponsorship and partnership.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.