Triangle’s Media Ecosystem Needs Tributaries and Mainstream

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 14, 2010 9:16 am EDT No comments

Sitting next to News & Observer editor John Drescher last Friday during a forum about the Triangle’s media landscape, I had to feel a bit sorry for him. Of the nearly 20 representatives of news media in the region, he was the most prominent representative of the mainstream media and drew all the fire from the bloggers, entrepreneurs, do-gooders and pontificators who had him easily outnumbered and whose smaller organizations had often beaten his Goliath newsroom on important stories.

But I also envied Drescher. He was also the only one at the table who had ever dropped $200,000 of his company’s money on an investigation of a state agency. And the only one who knew what it was like to spend four years pinging the government for public records before he had a story solid enough to sell to his subscribers and advertisers.

One other thing made Drescher an enviable character in the Triangle’s media ecosystem. Despite their valid criticisms of increasing gaps in The News & Observer’s coverage of our communities many noted without irony in their voices, the small, independent and non-profit news operations had the most impact on public policy when they got the attention of Drescher’s paper or one of the local television stations.

And that made me realize that if our state is going to retain its generation-long reputation as a home for journalism that gives voice to the voiceless and holds powerful people accountable, then we must find a way to foster dozens of new and diverse tributaries of news and information that flow into the big, slow-moving mainstream media. Without the tributaries, the MSM seems likely to evaporate entirely. Without a larger channel into which they can empty, the tributaries seem likely to overwhelm us with a flood of disconnected datapoints.

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More on the N.C. Online News Audience

Written by Ryan Thornburg September 3, 2008 12:43 pm EDT 3 comments

UPDATE: Since my original post, I’ve received some new information from Dan Barkin, The News & Observer’s senior editor for online, about traffic to newsobserver.com. He — and others today — have pointed out that audience counts really depend on how you define your market. Statewide audience really doesn’t matter to ad buyers. Agreed, but I think it does matter in terms of editorial impact on issues of public affairs.

In an e-mail, Barkin said that “Some recent Media Audit numbers showed that WRAL.com reaches 51% of Triangle adults. Newsobserver.com (net of all of our sites) reaches 41.5% of Triangle adults.”

He said newsobserver.com reached about 50 percent more people in July and August of this year than the same months last year, but he also noted that page views had jumped only about 15 percent in those two months.

Original Post (12:55 p.m.):

Following up on my interview that aired earlier this morning on WUNC radio, I just got off the phone with Matt Tatham, the director of media relations for Hitwise. His company provided the data for the WUNC story, and I wanted to know more.

And, once again, the care that needs to be taken when talking about online audience numbers becomes apparent. According to Hitwise, WRAL clobbered The News & Observer online during August, but I think the clobbering was done in a manner that is slightly different than the one emphasized in the story.

As they say on Marketplace, let’s do the numbers …

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What Drives Local News Traffic

Written by Ryan Thornburg September 3, 2008 11:26 am EDT No comments

In an interview with WUNC radio this morning, I share some anecdotal information I’ve received from my visits to online news operations at the papers in Asheville, Fayetteville, Gastonia, Greensboro, Raleigh, Shelby, and Wilmington. The four things that are really driving page views at local and regional papers are:

  1. crime
  2. weather
  3. traffic
  4. high school sports

The full audio of the report is here. Leroy Towns comments here. More TK on this subject.

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