One more blow against community media: Washington Post drops Thursday "county" news special sections
"In the old days," metropolitan newspapers were known for publishing special zoned community news sections one or two days per week.
The idea was that more locally focused news of less interest to the entire metropolitan area would be featured as well as provide an opportunity for smaller, local businesses to advertise.
With the precipitous decline of the newspaper industry co-terminate with the rise of the Internet over the past 20+ years -- most major newspapers have less than half the circulation they had back then, for example the Washington Post distributed close to 800,000 papers daily, now it's about 350,000 -- newspapers have been cutting back.
And that includes special zoned community news sections. The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Detroit News eliminated their special weekly community news sections more than ten years ago, the New York Times about five years ago, the Boston Globe consolidated their five zoned editions to three, eliminating the special Boston city section as part of the changes.
It became more of a "Home Life" section, but with the local calendar.
From the Post description of the purpose and value of the section to students:
Every Thursday LOCAL LIVING combines Home and community news with local entertainment, family and health features that readers want. The result? A convenient weekly resource covering Washington life from family room to community room.
LOCAL LIVING provides news and features about the community, profiles of neighbors and neighborhood organizations, coverage of local government agendas, zoning and school board actions.
LOCAL LIVING offers a wide range of educational opportunities and strategies. A few simple examples will help to introduce students to LOCAL LIVING.Now the Post has dropped this section, called "Local Living," and the county-specific calendar-events feature. (The New York Times dropped its Thursday Home section about two years ago.)
Articles and advertisements provide illustrations, headlines and vocabulary that lead to concept development, so necessary to reading a story with success. In articles, features and photographs, a particular area of the Washington metropolitan region is covered. Students can learn much about the locations in and geography of their area and surrounding areas through LOCAL LIVING.
Suburban weekly networks. Some newspapers, among them the Chicago Sun-Times (although later they sold out those newspapers to the Chicago Tribune), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Baltimore Sun, and the Los Angeles Times, constructed networks of suburban-focused weeklies distributed separately from the main newspaper but with the same idea of providing locally relevant news and advertising.
The Washington Post didn't do that in quite the same integrated fashion, but had such weeklies in Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George's Counties in Maryland and in Fairfax County, Virginia. A couple years ago they shut down the Maryland weeklies and sold the Fairfax edition ("The ongoing tragedy of dying print media, the latest being community newspapers in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, Maryland").
It's been a blow for nonprofits and cultural organizations in Suburban Maryland ever since, in terms of being able to communicate to a wider audience.
Now that blow has been extended to the entire circulation area of the Washington Post newspaper.
If in the Internet era one of the true distinctions and reasons for reading a "local" paper is locally relevant news and features, then sadly the Post is becoming less relevant.
The negative effect on civil society. Most research on citizen involvement in local civic affairs finds a strong positive association between reading the local newspaper and the level of engagement. Research on newspaper closures finds that there is a negative impact on civic engagement and involvement as newspapers close or shrink.
From the journal article, "Dead Newspapers and Citizens’ Civic Engagement," published in Political Communication:
Using data from the 2008 and 2009 Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the United States Census Bureau, this article assesses the year-over-year change in the civic engagement of citizens in America’s largest metropolitan areas. Of special interest are Denver and Seattle, where the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed during the intervening year. The data from the CPS indicate that civic engagement in Seattle and Denver dropped significantly from 2008 to 2009—a decline that is not consistently replicated over the same time period in other major American cities that did not lose a newspaper. The analysis suggests that this decline may plausibly be attributed to the ewspaper closures in Seattle and Denver. This short-term negative effect is concerning, and whether it lasts warrants future attention.As mass print media ceases to be a mass medium, the quality of participation as well as the amount of participation declines.
Also see the discussion on media within the past entry, "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance."
Existing community media networks in DC and Northern Virginia. In Northwest DC, the Current Newspapers still publish, although the shutting down of the Gazette Newspapers fatally damaged a once extent newspaper supplement distribution network, cutting the revenues of the Current group. The Capital Hill Community News group publishes monthlies for Capitol Hill, center city DC, and East of the River.
Virginia has a couple large community weekly networks, the primary being the Connection Newspapers.
Calendar features. It happens that the calendar-event section of the Current Newspapers is probably the premier such section in the metropolitan area, but it lacks the reach and positioning possessed by the Post. The calendars in the Capital Hill Community News publications are quite good as well. And the Washington City Paper, the city's alternative weekly, publishes a calendar as does the Post Weekend section, although the Weekend section focuses on events and showings, not lectures and such.
In Cincinnati, the arts organizations have banded together to create a digital calendar called ArtsWave with an associated ArtsWavePass that provides discounted access to events.
The Post could still publish a community calendar page in the regular paper. Ideally, the Post could continue the community calendar function by dedicating one page, perhaps in the Thursday Style section. There could be a DC/Maryland page for DC and Maryland and a Virginia page for the Virginia editions of the paper.
Opportunities to create digital community information networks. In various writings, I've described how community-district information systems could be distributed at the sub-city/sub-county level, by "district." Working with "calendar engines" like the Current Newspapers, it is possible to create such networks, perhaps in conjunction with the distribution of district-specific transit information.
I describe such a network, focused on Silver Spring, in an article series on Silver Spring. as item #10. The basic outline is relevant regardless of specific place.
Create a digital community and transit information network for Silver Spring, employing kiosks and mobile applications. For at least 15 years, I've been thinking about how to create and deliver a city- (county-) wide digital nonprofit and cultural communications feed, with sub-feeds for neighborhoods/districts.
Now, with real-time transit information feeds like TransitScreen, you can use transit information applications as a foundation/the engine but add other information feeds to the engine. That's how the digital information kiosks work (called CityPost, produced by Smart City Media) alongside the Kansas City Streetcar.
From the Digital Signage Today article "Meridian deploys outdoor interactive kiosks in Kansas City" :
The interactive kiosks, located at Kansas City Streetcar platforms and throughout downtown, enable travelers to check the arrival time of the next streetcar, offer Kansas City locals and tourists access to city services, and display information about local restaurants, activities and events...Kiosk users can sync their smartphones to the kiosk with a mobile app to save and share information. For example, Kansas City Streetcar travelers might see an ad for dinner at a local restaurant. They are then able to pull that information onto their mobile device to access again at their convenience.
There is also the LinkNYC program, delivered by Civiq Smartscapes, but these systems tend to be more focused on delivering advertising rather than useful community-specific information. I have similar concerns about a program done separately by the New York MTA transit agencies.The feed would be multi-stream instead of a single advertising feed or a single transit information feed.
Take (1) the digital ad feed presented in bus shelters and transit stations; (2) add transit and mobility information like the TransitScreen application; and (3) create and deliver a separate "community information feed" promoting nonprofit and public sector organization, events, public meeting notices, etc. (Note that Outfront Media is doing (1) and (2) on screens in Metrorail stations.)
There is great need for systematically delivering community information in public and visible ways in many places, because community media outlets are going out of business because of how the Internet has changed the business of media and advertising.
In fact, Montgomery County does a form of delivering community information digitally at the Silver Spring Civic Center, where they have two digital screens side-by-side behind the information desk.
One presents the TransitScreen info (pictured at right), and the other cycles through "ads" for Montgomery County Government agencies and services, and community events. (Libraries frequently have community bulletin board-like digital screens presenting such information also.)
The idea is to create content in a way that works at two scales: (1) a city or county; and (2) at the sub-city/county scale, by neighborhood/ transit district.
The stream would be device independent, so that it could be displayed on screens and kiosks as well as received on a digital feed.
Besides delivering this digital network in kiosks at transit stations and key "crossroads," in bus shelters, and civic buildings and sites, ideally, places like coffee shops, office and apartment buildings, etc., would put up screens and "subscribe" to the feed as a service to their customers/tenants--many do this with transit information already.
As another example, recently I came across the Pitt Smart Living Project, but it seems to focus only on delivering area-specific transit information.
-- Pitt Smart Living Project TransitScreen for Sennott Square
To create and deliver the community ads and event content, I'd set up an "advertising and design curriculum" as part of the School of Art and Design at Montgomery College, perhaps with the involvement of the journalism program of Montgomery-Blair High School, which very actively markets its Silver Chips student newspaper to the community beyond the school.
A way to extend the community and educational value of the program would be to create an equivalent of the teen graphic design program of Boston's Artists for Humanity. Arts on the Block, based in Kensington, could participate too. The firm handling advertising in Montgomery County's bus shelters would be another partner.
Currently the MC Media Arts & Technology program is located at the Rockville campus, but in keeping with the presence of Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, perhaps this academic program could shift to the Silver Spring campus.
-- Smart City Media video showing the program in Kansas City
An issue is whether or not to include "for profit" ads. I would in part to defray costs, but outside of bus shelters, perhaps ads should be limited to businesses based in Silver Spring, potentially the Silver Spring retail trade area (which includes parts of DC and arguably, part of Prince George's County), and Montgomery County outside of Silver Spring.