He starts off by talking about the transformations happening in radio:
“Local” radio stations are going national, and even international. That sounds like an opportunity for the stations — they can now reach a larger potential audience for advertisers. But in reality, it’s a problem. The whole radio business model is built around pandering to local community groups, small businesses, area schools and, above all, local listeners. So how do you pander to the old audience without alienating the new one?
He then goes on to explain how the same problem applies to newspapers:
Now you can get local news anywhere. Look, for example, at Lodi, Calif., a medium-size city of about 63,000 people. (You may recall the town from a 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival song.)
Search Google News for “Lodi” and there it is: more than 4,000 news stories, organized roughly by importance. Getting Lodi news on Google is faster, cheaper, more comprehensive and, well, better than the local Lodi paper. You can get Lodi news even if you’re in Timbuktu. And, of course, you can get county, state, national and international news everywhere. Even if you’re stuck in Lodi.
And here is the money shot:
What’s really going on is that the Internet is punishing inefficiency.
His analysis strikes me as brutally accurate. As much as I criticize the ad-supported model in general and Google’s role in devaluing online content in particular, I think that Elgan does a great job of explaining what may be one of the the news industry’s biggest contributions to its own malaise. Indeed, for all of the hype about hyperlocal news, I suspect that the winners in this market will be news providers or aggregators that don’t focus on local news but rather let users find whatever they want.
In an unsuccessful City Council run, Tip O’Neill received the famous advice from his father that “All politics is local.” That was surely true in the 1930s, but the world had changed a bit in seven decades.
Fittingly, Elgan concludes his article:
Nothing is local anymore. And it’s a huge opportunity. The new mantra should be: Cover local events exclusively, but for a global audience.