Local News: Everything Fits, So Publish It All

White snow and clear ice coated the ground and trees in Memphis – so I grabbed the family, loaded up the sleds and headed over to the city’s biggest park, Shelby Farms, to take in the fantastic scenery and ice-covered slopes.

To top it off, there was a photographer from the Commercial Appeal snapping photos of us and other families sledding, running, building snowmen, etc… My 12-year-old was certain fame and her picture in the paper were inevitable. Of course, neither happened –but in the process I realized just how badly the Commercial Appeal and other media organizations are missing opportunities to drive engagement, grow their audience and increase revenue.

As anyone who has ever worked in community journalism knows, people want to see themselves, their family and friends.

We’re no different. The next day, we scanned the paper and went to the Web site to see our pictures – and found none. Instead of giving our family (and the hundreds of others people photographed at the park that day) a reason to stay on the site, share links with family and friends, we went away disappointed.

Of the dozens, if not hundreds, of photos taken only a couple were published in print or online. Newspapers were founded on the tradition of scarcity and selectivity, “All the news that fits,” but in the age where space is limitless does that still make sense?

I would have loved to have seen a halfway decent photo of myself and my family sledding. While it may not have been the “best” photo of the day, from my perspective it would have been way better than none – as I have no photo of myself and my kids sledding. And even if I had photos, I can guarantee that the quality of the photos would far surpass the blurry out-of-focus action images from my point-and-shoot camera.

The drive to share pictures and videos of ourselves with friends and family has driven the explosive growth of Youtube, Flickr and other social networking sites, so why not leverage the photographic talent, already deployed resource and the newspaper’s brand to provide people with “published” photos of themselves to share with family and friends.

The cost of publication is minimal. The majority of the cost is already built into the publication of a single picture – so each additional picture should require virtually no incremental expense.

And the upside?

Audience Engagement & differentiation: Local content with local people to drive the engagement and differentiation local news organizations require to retain subscribers. In other words, we would have shared the pictures with family and friends –giving us another reason why we should read and subscribe to the Commercial Appeal.

More Revenue per assignment: Instead of having to support the cost of deployment with the ad dollars driven by just a photo or two, multiple photos should drive more revenue and lower the cost of the assignment.

My family’s fame & fortune: Best of all, my daughters’ would have achieved their desired celebrity and we would forever be etched in the history of Memphis, sledding down the slushy slope. While Flickr & Facebook are great ways to share photos – nothing beats the validation and excitement of appearing in the official media or local “paper of record”.

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