A recent survey taken of 2,361 local news publishers across the country showed that one in 10 outlets don’t have a website and many aren’t present on Facebook.
However, one of the most interesting findings from the study, called “Digital Adaptation in Local News” by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, is how much control Google has over the digital fates of many of those newsrooms that have adapted to online audiences.
The study recognizes that often more focus is placed on Facebook than Google when discussing the duopoly. But, local newsrooms rely on Google’s search engine and its AMP project to optimize load times of pages. Even more striking: Nearly half of all the local news sites offering video, stream it through YouTube, opened by Google.
That’s a lot of power over local news for one tech company. Over the past few years, the impact of publishers’ reliance on Facebook has been observed to disastrous effect. One algorithm change and the livelihoods of writers and editors are destroyed as outlets lay off staff or shut down completely due to revenue loss.
This is no different from the tangle local news is in due to its reliance on Google. A few small tweaks to platforms publishers rely on for stability and a community loses its local news source.
The study reveals some of the solutions and problems for smaller outlets to stand independently digitally.
First, the creation of mobile apps is often not worth the effort to build and maintain for smaller outlets, though many have taken to designing mobile-optimized pages. A small sample of 200 websites showed 84% of them offered a mobile responsive version of their site to customers. Unfortunately, for many outlets, individually hosted sites that don’t utilize AMP are slower to load, and, in effect, risk losing audiences.
Overwhelmingly, news outlets were offering a way for readers to access paid subscription, donation or membership. According to the study’s results, 94% of the daily newspapers studied offered an online subscription model, with 69% of community weeklies and 68% of community magazines doing the same.