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Friday, June 20, 2014
Freelance Toolbox

Where is the news headed? A freelancer’s perspective

By Jeff Cutler

Taking a look at the news business, most viewers and readers would assume firms that deal in information are destined for extinction. While large newspapers shutter their operations and broadcast outlets form partnerships and try to consolidate, a few news organizations are staying viable and even turning a profit. Freelancers are caught in this belt-tightening and have to be aware of what’s happening around them.

The successful companies have focused on one of two approaches: They either tighten the reins and concentrate on local coverage, or they take a broad look at issues and create content that’s attractive to a global audience. This is where opportunity lies. Taking a local view of things, and getting down and dirty with the audiences right around you, is where I think news content is headed.

For example, the team at the Orange County Register, headed by owner Aaron Kushner, is garnering its profits and hoping for future profits by betting on local audiences and coverage. (Though, in fairness, that model has come into question lately with layoffs and buyouts recently announced.)

According to an August 2013 Los Angeles Times article, “Kushner is trying to increase print revenue by pumping the Register — and the community papers that come bundled with it — full of features about high school sports, community events and other good news while preserving the Register’s tradition of hard-nosed local and investigative reporting.”

That’s exactly the type of coverage journalism organizations like SPJ regularly discuss in training sessions focused on the future of reporting.

To that end, a hyperlocal approach in which reporters dive deeply into issues that resonate with small-town readers/viewers is how news outlets are attracting repeat customers for their news. Essentially, in an age when everyone can get sports scores, top breaking news and other big stories on their mobile phone, the push to hyper-local might be a game changer.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s still an audience that wants to follow national and global news in a new way. Instead of getting a local perspective on conflicts in other countries, news consumers want British news and perspective from the U.K., Asian info from Asian outlets and correspondents, and national U.S. stories from specialists embedded in Washington, D.C.

Does this type of news gathering and dissemination work? Judging by CNN, Fox News and other outlets’ influx of “perspective” programming, this type of news education show is capturing eyeballs. While lots of pundits are saying that digital news is the future, the real future of news is going deeper and making real connections with your audiences. The skilled freelancer has to understand that to break into an outlet’s roster of reporters. She has to deliver the goods AND know the landscape.

The business of communication isn’t new, but for news outlets and freelance news pros to be successful these days, they all need to think both big and small. Hyperlocal news connects publications with their communities, and global coverage makes people feel connected and educated about the world around them.

Ultimately, journalists’ approach to news gathering hasn’t changed. The only real change is what reporters cover these days when they’ve got to have a focus both near and far — locally and globally.

How do you see the news business changing? Is social media a game changer in allowing audiences to interact with news pros? And if it is, how should journalists respond when they’re engaging with readers and viewers?

Jeff Cutler is a content specialist who regularly trains people on the use of social tools to share their message(s) and reach audiences. He has written for NPR, The New York Post, Technology Review, Gatehouse Media and others. Find out more with a quick click on his site, jeffcutler.com, and connect with Jeffvia social media (links at the top of his site).

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