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The state of local media? Engaging

The reporter was so angry with me as I was editing his story, his voice was shaking. “You want me to reference another newspaper in my story? You want me to tell readers about our competitor’s coverage? Is this just because I didn’t break the story myself? Do you think other media would do this?” 

At the time, interacting with readers by citing other sources of information was a foreign concept to many. Today, the conversation would go far differently. Engagement is a journalism buzzword, illustrating depth, breadth and personal investment. 

AOL’s Patch.com is in the process of launching a series of “hyperlocal” news sites in my back yard of Northeast Ohio. The purpose of these and other extremely local news sites being created around the country is to “engage the audience and connect that audience to advertisers,” Patch president Warren Webster recently said in an interview with Crain’s Cleveland Business

In a New York Times story this week, Peter Applebome writes about The Register Citizen in the economically challenged town of Torrington, Conn. The paper is trying innovative ways such as opening up the newsroom to the public to connect with residents and encourage interaction with readers. 

“The business plan is based on making The Register Citizen’s website a magnet for all things local and thus an attractive place for advertisers, sponsors and others who can replace declining newspaper subscribers and advertisers.” 

“The same thought underlies the public meetings and open newsroom, the opening of the company’s archives, the public spaces for bloggers and the meeting room that will host courses on blogging and journalism, so residents can write and link to the site.” 

Perhaps no other media has received as much attention for its engagement efforts as TV-Website TBD.com in the Washington, D.C., area, which launched this year with the goal of producing local journalism unlike any other organization. TBD is supported by a “community engagement team.” 

In this article in Neiman Reports, team members describe how they review the website’s 200 community bloggers and then look to provide readers with fresh, engaging content. 

 “My challenge is to capture and funnel information from blogs, websites, legacy media (yes, even from our competitors) that will enhance our community’s experience,” team member Jeff Sonderman told Nieman. 

Of course, all these efforts may fail, engagement may go the way of the pet rock (yes, I am dating myself) but don't bet on it. I’m looking forward to the growth of the Patch.com site that covers my neighborhood. Heck, I might even engage with the site. 

I wonder what my reporter would say to that?

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