News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Local

April 17, 2012

Local news enthusiasts: Pew research hints at opportunities for ethnic, community media

By Amy Gahran

The vast majority of U.S. adults are really into local news, Pew research shows. How might ethnic and community media outlets capitalize on this as more media goes digital and mobile?...

Over a year ago, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 72% of U.S. adults say they follow local news closely most of the time, whether or not some important local news is happening. Today, a new Pew report takes a closer look at this group of “local news enthusiasts.”

According to Pew, local news enthusiasts are more likely to be female, age 65 or older, and retired. “Politically, they tend to be conservative in their outlook (although they do not differ from others in party identification) and they also attend religious services more frequently than others. They do not differ from other adults in terms of household income, but are less likely to be college graduates.”

In terms of ethnicity, the vast majority (69%) of local news enthusiasts are white, Pew found. Black and Hispanic adults each comprise 13% of local news enthusiasts—roughly equivalent to the representation of these ethnic groups among the U.S. population at large.

Interestingly, adults with the lowest annual household income ($30,000 or less) were by far most likely to be keen on local news: 32% describe themselves as local news enthusiasts, compared to 22% in the highest income bracket (over $75,000). People with $$50,000-$74,999 annual household income had the lowest representation among local news enthusiasts (12%).

This finding indicates that ethnic and community news and media might be especially likely to gain traction in poorer communities and low-income demographics within communities—a point that might interest local advertisers and sponsors wishing to reach those communities.

Local news enthusiasts don’t all have gray hair. Fully one fourth are age 18-24. However, according to Pew this is the only age group where “other adults” outnumber local news enthusiasts—by almost two to one. This hints that right now is probably a crucial time to engage younger people in local news and information.

Digital media, including mobile and social media, might be particularly valuable in engaging younger people in local news and information. Pew noted: “91% of younger local news followers are internet users, compared with 71% of local news followers age 40 and older, and 82% of adults who do not follow local news closely.”

For contrast, another recent Pew study found that 20% of U.S. adults—mostly those over age 50—still don’t use the internet at all.

Also according to Pew, 73% of younger local news enthusiasts use some kind of social networking service (such as Facebook), compared with 35% of older local news followers and 53% of adults who do not follow local news closely. Twitter is not quite as popular—only 16% of younger local news followers use Twitter, but that’s far more than older local news enthusiasts or other adults. This indicates that using social media to complement your local news and information offerings on the web and in other media might be an especially effective tool for engaging younger community members.

Mobile devices represent a huge opportunity for ethnic and community media. Overall, 84% of local news enthusiasts have a cell phone, and 7% have a tablet computer—slightly less than penetration among all other adults. Also, Pew found the highest penetration of both types of mobile devices is among the youngest local news enthusiasts (under age 40).

This Pew report did not explore how many local news enthusiasts currently use smartphones. However, this year marks the tipping point when smartphones take over as the majority of U.S. handsets in use. Also, most simpler, cheaper “feature phones” are capable of browsing the web and accessing e-mail—and virtually all cell phones can send and receive text messages.

This means that a robust, inclusive mobile strategy (ideally one that includes text messaging alerts or interactivity) can help any local or niche news outlet connect with its community via the devices that most people already carry with them everywhere they go. Also, since social media is one of the most popular things that younger people do on their cell phones, social media can help jumpstart your mobile strategy.

Online media is definitely not the leading source of local news for local news enthusiasts—which may put online-only ethnic or community news and info outlets at a bit of a comparative disadvantage. According to Pew, enthusiasts’ most popular sources of local news are broadcast TV (80%), word of mouth (57%), radio (52%) and print (48%). In contrast, 41% of local news enthusiasts use search engines to find local news, 23% turn to the websites of local newspapers (TV stations sites, 20%), and 12% get their local news from social networking sites.

This points out an opportunity to leverage partnerships for cross-media promotion. For instance, online-only ethnic or community news outlets might provide some articles or other content to run in local newspapers, in exchange for the print outlet providing information about how to find the ethnic/community news site or do other cross-promotion. Similarly, providing simple, short, broadcast-quality audio or video news segments or community updates to local radio or TV stations could help broaden your audience. Many local stations are eager to run such content.

Finally, ethnic and community news sites with a strong mission to improve local communities may be encouraged by this Pew finding: “Slightly more local news enthusiasts than others think they can have a big impact on making their community a better place to live (33% vs. 27%).”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

June 27, 2012

Colorado wildfire app can enhance coverage of any local emergency

By Amy Gahran

This week—when a major wildfire broke out near Colorado Springs, Colorado—two young programmers there quickly built an app to help people follow social media posts about the fire. They also posted the open-source code, allowing anyone with some basic coding skills to spin off their own version.

Here’s how, and why, community news sites can use this tool to augment coverage of any local emergency…

The Waldo Canyon Wildfire Tracker is an app that aggregates Twitter posts which include the hashtag #WaldoCanyonFire. It was built by Robbie Trencheny and Scott Seibold.

Trencheny, a developer for the fundraising app company Momentum, lives about five miles east of the blaze. I interviewed him for this story about the app, and gathered some additional insight from him on how community news sites might use it.

This app does more than just display tweets with the hashtag. It organizes photos attached to tweets into an attractive photo gallery up top. “People really like the photo gallery, we’re getting a lot of compliments on that,” said Trencheny.

The app also offers checkbox options to hide retweets (which can tame the sometimes overwhelming flow of posts), pause the automatic updating (so tweets don’t scroll by too fast), and turn off notifier sounds. And it provides links at the top to key resources for city residents.

Trencheny and Seibold were able to build this app in less than an hour, because they had access to a lot of pre-existing code and tools. But they haven’t had time to add some features. However, this app could be adapted and expanded to incorporate maps as well as posts from Instagram, Flickr, or any social media service that offers a public application programming interface. (Since Facebook is a closed network with no public API, it’s not possible to add Facebook updates to this app.)

Technically speaking, this isn’t a traditional app. Most people think of “apps” as software that you download and install on a mobile device or computer. But this is a “web app”—all functionality is delivered via a web browser. Users don’t need to download or install anything—they just need to point their browser to

This app is even fairly easy to use on smartphones—and Trencheny is working to make it even more mobile friendly. And since it’s a web app, it will work on any phone with a web browser and a data plan. Unlike traditional apps, for web apps you don’t have to create and maintain a separate code base for each mobile platform (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, etc.) That makes it easier and cheaper to deploy.

How can this app help a community, or a community news outlet?

This web app could prove useful or engaging to community members who may not be especially savvy about technology or social media access. As long as they know how to find a website using the web browser on their computer, phone or tablet, it provides them with access to a broader range of real-time information about an unfolding local emergency.

Trencheny observed that most people in Colorado Springs don’t seem to use social media much, aside from Facebook. “Many communities are kind of still back in the 1980s or 1990s as far as the internet and social media are concerned,” he said. “This app is a way for them to find out relevant stuff from Twitter or other services, whether or not they use those services themselves.

Ideally this app would complement the emergency news coverage and other information produced by local news outlets, bloggers, agencies, and officials—with opportunities to cross-promote news stories. For instance, a news site adapting this app for a local emergency might add a section to the layout that highlights links to its own recent news stories, or official bulletins.

What does it take to spin off your own version of this app?

Trencheny has uploaded the complete code base for this app to GitHub, a popular resource for programmers who build or adapt open source code. Anyone can download, customize, and redeploy this app at no charge.

You don’t need to be (or to hire) a highly skilled programmer with years of experience to adapt this web app.

“It’s all written in Javascript, and the front end is a blend of HTML and Javascript,” said Trencheny. “And you’d need to know a little bit about cascading stylesheets, too. As far as web development skills are concerned that’s very, very basic stuff. And to deploy the code base, you just need to change the API keys for Twitter or other services to your own, and change the search query, and that’s it.”

If you aren’t a coder, or don’t have a coder on your team, it might be a good idea to start building relationships with local coders. Earlier on KDMC, Trencheny offered some advice on how to build connections with programmers for community projects.

If you use this app, here are some tips:

  1. Promote the app on your site. Write a short post explaining what this app is, how people can access and use it, and which services and hashtags it draws information from. Explain how this complements traditional news coverage and official announcements—and caution people that information on this app is not necessarily verified or accurate. Then add a box or prominent link to this explainer from your home page as well as all story pages about the emergency.

  2. Promote the app via social media. Periodically mention the app in your posts to Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, and other services—including Facebook, even though the app can’t aggregate Facebook posts. Ask your social media followers to share the link to your web app with their followers.

  3. Find—or start—the right hashtag(s) to follow. Trencheny mentioned that city government and emergency response agencies in Colorado Springs have been doing an excellent job of using social media in this emergency. Right after the fire broke out they declared an “official” hashtag (#WaldoCanyonFire), used it consistently, and encouraged others to use it.

    But in other communities and other emergencies, people may start by using several different hashtags, or none at all. Aggregate into your feed the most relevant hashtags—and as your community starts to gravitate toward one or a few most popular ones, weed out the less prevalent ones from the stream of updates. Also, use the most prevalent hashtag(s) consistently in your own social media posts. And remember: all you have to do to start a hashtag is to start using it.

  4. Add the hashtag as needed in retweets. Many people, especially social media newcomers, don’t understand what hashtags are or how to use them well, and so omit them from relevant updates. When you see this happening on, say Twitter, repost or retweet items you’d like to include in your app using the appropriate hashtag.

    Aside from getting more great content into your app, this technique indicates that you support their efforts, which can encourage those social media users to post more about the emergency at hand. It also can subtly educate them about how to use the correct hashtag.

  5. Get a domain name—fast. When you deploy this app on your web host, you’ll want to make it easy for people to find it and recommend it. Especially for local emergencies, a lot of this will happen by word of mouth and over local radio. But right out of the box, the URL for your version of this web app will probably be long and ugly. It helps to quickly register an easy-to-remember and easy-to-spell domain name, and apply it to the app.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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