Millennials are known as localists. One of our more pleasant stereotypes is that we prefer locally sourced goods to conglomerate wares, locally owned restaurants to big chains. I’d like to think, for example, that it is in part thanks to our generation that Long Beach has become a local coffee shop and roaster island of sorts, putting a teensy dent in Starbucks’ market share with joints like Rose Park Roasters, Recreation Coffee, Lord Windsor, Black Ring Coffee and others.
A recent article by NBC News pondered whether “shop local” trend is the way forward for Millennial retail. If the appeal of localism to Millennials might be the salvation for local retail, I ask: why can’t it be the salvation for local news publications, too?
Last year, the Business Journal took part in the Long Beach Media Collaborative, an effort spearheaded by the Long Beach Community Foundation and funded through a grant from the Knight Foundation. I was delighted through that experience to see a strong representation of Millennials in various positions in journalism, from freelancers to staff writers to editorial management. Luckily, it does not seem that there is any shortage of Millennials, or of the next generation, hoping to pursue careers in journalism.
But the state of news media in Long Beach today is much different than it was a year ago, or two years ago, or three. In fact, since I joined the Business Journal five years ago, there have been numerous shifts in the local industry: from the Long Beach Post shutting down its print operation to move solely online, to the Grunion Gazette canceling its Uptown and Downtown editions, to the short life of the ill-fated Long Beach Register, and now to what one source tells me is the gutted newsroom of the Press-Telegram (which another tells me is soon to be restored). The Business Journal has gone through changes, too, switching to glossy stock paper several years ago and joining this century by launching a website. And now, a new publication backed by local investor John Molina is set to debut by July.
Like local news media around the country, in Long Beach the industry is in a constant state of flux. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it both? It depends where you look, and who you ask.
In some cases, funding is an issue. Readers may have noticed pleas from local publications asking for donations and subscriptions of late, all with a mantra that boils down to this: support local journalism.
I polled my Facebook friends asking Millennials who subscribe to online or print news sources whether they were subscribed to a local or national/international outlet. All responded that they supported the latter.
“I did it because John Oliver told me to,” a New York Times subscriber quipped, referring to the HBO comedian known for lengthy, comical-yet-fact-driven rants about contemporary issues. A Washington Post subscriber said he began paying to read the publication because its coverage holds President Trump to account.
I didn’t get too many responses, which either indicates that not too many Millennials I know subscribe to news outlets, or that people don’t enjoy Facebook polls. Based on prior conversations I’ve had with people my age – which typically go something like, “You work for a newspaper? Like . . . in print?!” coupled with an expression that reads “You must be broke” – I’m going to go with both.
A report by Reuters on the state of digital news in 2017 found that last year, online news subscriptions increased from 9% to 16% among U.S. respondents due to a “Trump bump.” The report stated, “Most of those new payments have come from the young – a powerful corrective to the idea that young people are not prepared to pay for online media, let alone news.”
The report also found that the number of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 who paid for online news increased from 4% to 18% between 2016 and 2017. The number of Americans aged 25 to 34 who paid for online news increased from 8% to 20% in the same time period.
An October 2017 article in Politico revealed that the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Economist and The New Yorker have all recently seen increases in Millennial subscribers.
So why are local publications stretching out their hands for support? Why can’t they hitch onto the traction that national outlets are benefiting from?
I would argue that local publications simply don’t have the resources to fully revamp their efforts to appeal to younger readers. It’s pretty hard to take the time to strategize your website, social media, marketing, editorial focus, design, etc. etc., when you’ve only got a handful of people on board, and constant deadlines.
In other cases, a lack of localism may in fact be the culprit. When national conglomerates take ownership of local papers, slash newsrooms, shuffle around reporters who have been deeply entrenched in their communities to other areas, and begin printing news that has nothing to do with the cities they’re meant to serve, they lose their local brand. And with that, so go the local readers.
But the onus also lies on my fellow Millennials. If you’re frustrated with the national news because you feel like it’s all politics all the time, if you feel like local news stations rely too heavily upon crime coverage and high-speed chases to keep their ratings up, and if you as a result feel that you don’t have the firmest grasp on what’s going on in your community, well, guess what? You’re not looking hard enough to find community-based news.
Local news publications offer more in-depth, regular coverage of communities than you’ll find on TV nowadays, and that you certainly won’t find in a national publication. Think about it this way. Chances are, you not only patronize the local coffee shop down the street because you like supporting local businesses – it’s probably also because their coffee is just better. The same goes for community newspapers and publications both here in Long Beach and throughout the country. If local news is what you’re looking for, guess what? They’re just better at it.
I’m not saying to throw your money at them. I’m just saying, read them. Not only will you learn something, but just the act of regularly reading local news sources will help keep them as just that: local.