William Lobdell, who previously wrote a trenchant and sadly accurate critique of the state of papers in general and the LA Times in particular, has looked at the “Most popular” feature at local web sites and decided the list of stories indicates that there’s no future for news online.
I think he needs to take a deep breath and consider what’s really bugging him. Is it that people don’t care about news? Or is it that they don’t care about what he thinks is the right news?
For 12 years I studied the logs of what people were reading locally (at baltimoresun.com), and for the most part, the results are heartening.
People want exactly what local news organizations are set up to best provide for them: local news and sports. There will be the occasional outlier about Britney or Clay or some heinous and gruesome murder in another state, but most of what rises to the top of daily, monthly and yearly readership patterns is the bread-and-butter journalism that most newspeople say they care most about.
So why’s William upset
The top-viewed stories don’t reflect the work of 600-plus journalists busting their asses around the world.
He’s right. A dispatch from South Africa or Tibet in the local paper’s web site isn’t exactly going to drive big numbers. But report on a local crime spree or a controversial piece of local legislation and you can almost hear the page-view counters clicking loudly.
This is a good thing. Local readers want local news primarily. They certainly expect their local news web site to have all the national and world news, in case they need it, but that’s not why readers go to latimes.com or baltimoresun.com. They’re there for the news that matters most to them locally. CNN.com and wsj.com are just a click away and do it better anyway. But the one thing they can’t do well – the one thing local newspapers still have, for now – is local news.
It’s not that the readers don’t appreciate the efforts of the newsroom. It’s just that they appreciate the efforts a whole lot more when what makes it into print is locally relevant, unique and useful.