If you were going to build a local news site from the ground up today, knowing nothing about how newspapers made money in the past, how would you do it? I started thinking about this earlier this year when I read this excellent post from a millennial and his consumption of news. He didn’t have all the answers, but he did ask some outstanding questions. It’s had me thinking about how I would design a news site from scratch today. Here are a few of my ideas:
- Come for the sizzle, stay for the steak. If you want to report on the local schools, town government, please do. Just realize that these are not topics that excite a lot of people. So, if you want more people to care about civics on a local level, give them something to come for regularly that they will enjoy, as well as the civics.
- Everybody is a storyteller. Journalists don’t have a monopoly on this anymore. Create different levels of storytelling on your site – some of which is done by you and your staff, and the rest is done by members of your community. You can easily divide the content so it’s easy to find and differentiate, and even “promote” content – if somebody writes a great story in the user section that’s worthy of journalistic expression, promote it to your news site.
- Make finding things ridiculously simple. More than the news, my biggest personal need locally is finding out what’s going on in the area. I personally do not find Google very good in this regard. I’ll use Yelp or Foursquare to identify places to eat once in awhile, but I don’t use them often, and all the reviews are people I don’t know, which I don’t find altogether helpful. Aren’t local news sites supposed to be the local authority? Make your search act that way, and add great content about quality local businesses to offer more than just “reviews”.
- Let everybody participate. One of the reasons social networks have taken off is that they give everyone a voice. Your readers should have a voice for sure, but so should local business owners (who are generally also readers and local community members themselves). There should be space and room for everybody. Every additional person or business that engages with you strengthens your brand immeasurably. More importantly, when you let people promote the things that are important to them, and make that information easy to find (see #3), you can charge for that benefit! This is how Google makes over 95% of their revenues.
- Make your content available to third parties. Yes, share. Not just with other sites, but via other mechanisms. Make your content available via Amazon Echo and Google Home. Syndicate specific local content to local partners that focus on those topics. This is how to extend your brand and make more people aware of your excellent content. If you do #3 properly, they’ll always come back to you to find the things they need.
There is no need for a fancy layout of your news like in days of old. Almost all discovery is done online via “search and scan” today. Make your top information searchable and scanable and you will have almost no need for fancy UI’s. Make engagement the focus of your local news site. That’s how I would build a new publishing site for today’s world.