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A News Director’s Take On Hyper-Local News Reporting

Editor’s Note : This is the debut edition of a new ShopTalk editorial series titled ‘From The Field.’ This will be a regular column that offers first-hand reports from the front lines of broadcast journalism. Today’s editorial comes from former WLWT ND Brennan Donnellan.

First, there is no need to panic! Journalism will survive and eventually thrive. Local television news still provides a vital service to our communities. No blog or tweet can replace the full experience of live coverage of severe weather or important breaking news.

Dont panic, but do believe that the world as we knew it is not coming back. In some ways, we contributed to our own decline, insisting on the instant gratification of a ratings pop at the expense of relevance and responsibility. It worked for a while, but clearly its not working now.

Donnellan and Anderson Township I started Around Anderson (aroundanderson.com) as an experiment in hyper-local news, something were all trying to understand. For me, it has become an antidote to the hype, a tonic to refresh and remind me of why we are journalists in the first place.

Most of my friends and neighbors love Anderson Township, Ohio. We participate in community events, we celebrate together and we pitch in to solve common problems. For better or worse, many people here feel more connected to events in Anderson Township than they do to downtown Cincinnati or even Washington DC. Hyper-local news is extremely relevant to them and they want more.

As a television news director, I thought of our audience in terms of numbers, demos, ratings, and often lowest common denominators. Thanks to Around Anderson, Ive attended zoning meetings and protests. Ive met local business people fighting valiantly to support families and to build something out of nothing. Ive heard from readers who are smart, passionate and who seem thrilled to have a forum to let their ideas be heard.

This is all very noble, but we do have to get paid. Im still working on that part, but I see a path toward profitability and already a trickle of revenue. Eventually I will sell banner ads, but the few dollars that will bring arent worth the clutter for now. For advertisers, I can provide relevance, too. Around Anderson features business profiles, often using video to showcase unique services and personalities. Its paid content, something I would never advocate in local TV news. At Around Anderson, readers know me and trust me. We have an understanding that I wont deceive them with ads disguised as news. Truly, local businesses are part of the fabric of Anderson Township and those stories deserve to be part of the discussion.

Finally, Ive learned that making a hyper-local site go as a full-time venture requires at least two people, or two teams if youre lucky; one for the content, one to build the business relationships. Both are full-time jobs.

Honestly, I dont expect to make a living from Around Anderson. There are models around the country proving that. I expect I will return to the more traditional news business with new knowledge, tools and a much better understanding of whats really relevant to audiences large and small.

Brennan Donnellan is the editor of Around Anderson, a community news site in Anderson Township, Ohio near Cincinnati. He was formerly news director for WLWT-TV. He’s also worked as a manager and executive producer in Atlanta, Boston and Syracuse.
Around Anderson:
http://aroundanderson.com/
Brennan’s Personal Site:
http://brennandonnellan.com/

If you would like to comment on From the Field, or have a suggestion for a future edition, email fromthefield@tvspy.

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