On my way to Salford for the Radio Festival 2014 #radfest2014 where I am due to speak on a panel on
‘Festival Session: The Power of Local
The way we consume local news has changed dramatically. Growth in traffic to local newspaper websites has more than doubled since 2013. Social media sites like Twitter and Pinterest have seen significant growth in user numbers in the last 3 years. The number of hyper-local news sites has increased from an estimated 200 in 2012 to around 500 today, while BBC local radio has seen a year on year decline in weekly reach in the last quarter.
So where does this leave local radio journalism?
Jim Foulger, Rod McKenzie, Will Perrin, Winifred Robinson, Shelagh Fogarty (host) Produced by Toby Friedner’
Points running through my head on the train journey include
– local radio news is a product of regulation. Unless regulation changes the scope for product change and adaptation is limited. This is very challenging at a time of such rapid media shift.
– local radio news for most listeners is not local at all – if reflects a 1950s cold war electromagnetic topography bodged onto shire counties. The statistical definition of local is ‘where you can walk to within 20 minutes’.
– local radio in the UK came about in large part from the external shock to the system caused by unregulated, iconoclastic pirate radio. Local online media might be the next major shock to the system.
– local online media is a messy vibrant colourful clamour of different voices and opinions distributed across a range of media, formats and geographies – the flat opposite of local radio news
– local online media is ‘self-provided’ it is quite literally what people get on and do if there isn’t a commercial or regulatory imperative. It is much closer to the individual customer need and want than the top-down regulatory, tradition and engineering-driven product radio companies produce
– in this context the old skool voice of local radio, no matter how much one tries to jazz it up feels a generation out of date – indeed it is targeted at people in their 50s, even though they are increasingly online. Curiously though most local websites i work with are run by people in their 30s 40s and 50s and a few by people in their 60s and 70s.
– local radio broadcasters need to work much more closely with local independent online media to get under the skin of what makes them attractive. Systematic study and engagement with local online publishers vital if radio is to remain relevant. Each area is different online so this work needs to be done locally.
– although it feels like cuts are biting local radio is hugely resourced compared to local web media, which is largely a small business/volunteer activity. Since i started Talk About Local in 2009 the BBC alone has put around £1 billion into local media.
– the web is an afterthought for much local radio. Their websites and sharing are often poor.
– BBC Newsbeat shows glimmers of the right strategic direction in this interview. Although they have got their ordering of ‘listen, watch, share’ wrong – it should be sharing first, not last. In my view as a practitioner people decide to share stuff before they have fully consumed it.
– BUT (and a big BUT) regulation and tradition of radio add public service value to the news through impartiality and factual rigour. This is a great strength but this, combined with the transmitter geography layer in cost and ‘remoteness’.
Challenge is to bring these public service strengths to new media forms and audiences.
– the medium itself needs some radical yet simple change to work for an online audience. I don’t think i have ever seen anyone share a radio show in my timeline on Facebook nor on Twitter nor anyone email me link to one. Except perhaps the Jeremy Hunt Today incident. I like podcasting personally I am an avid consumer of ‘In Our Time’ podcasts in the gym (weird, I know) but i can see why it doesn’t work for local web media.
Most of the components of better local online sharing are all out there but rarely pulled together at a local level. Changes to distribution online for local radio journalism to make it integrate with local online media would include:
a) make it clear you can reuse local public service radio journalism for free by giving it away under a permissive creative commons licence. It has next to no commercial value on 99.9% of occasions. On shows that are journalism-led just chop the music out.
b) make it easy for local online publishers to use radio material on their sites i.e. make radio material online embeddable easily on other platforms – the acid test is something so easy and web-friendly that it works on wordpress.com. The iPlayer is a great example of how not to do this.
c) if you publish a three hour morning chat show do it in such a way that local web people can find and link to the five minute segment on the proposed incinerator without having to listen to the whole thing. Radio material online should either be chopped into tiny segments or internally hyperlinkable and that hyperlink be embeddable – like on Youtube where you can share or embed a link to a specific part of a video.
d) transcripts of important bits online are hugely helpful and easier to share and reuse than audio – commercial radio often posts up the ‘news in your area’ as a long page which isn’t very helpful for people who want to share it
e) the presenters or production team taking part live in online interaction as a matter of course – this does happen to some extent but not systematically. Stand back for a second and think about the oddness of presenters reading out emails on air rather than resharing them in a text medium.
My train had got into Manchester so that’s it for now. I look forward to excellent embeddable sharing of my session so i can post it here later…..
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