In one sense, we live in a society that is populated with millions of individual Copernicus devotees. Ever wonder why MySpace has grown so quickly into the behemoth it has become? We like hearing ourselves talk, and having others revolve around us. A zillion new blogs created every day further supports the assertion that Americans like to think of ourselves as controlling or at least influencing others' views. Seemingly, the majority of us want to have a voice.
This kind of American individualism has long been a source of fascination--and occasional revulsion--to other cultures. In terms of how it is shaping our evolving media landscape, it is a primary driver. The role of the individual is part of the reason why the "local" idiom has become so hot--as the lens online becomes more precisely focused from the user end, local relevance has to become more precise.
We hear a ton about the growing importance of local search, but not enough attention has been paid to local media online as a whole. This has been changing somewhat recently, with the sale of Knight Ridder to McClatchy and the associated examination of what McClatchy sees as valuable within its acquired assets.
Experts tell us that McClatchy stock has long been a solid buy/hold from Wall Street because the company only invests in growth markets, and that it always tailors its local media assets on a bespoke basis toward these markets. In other words, McClatchy has long recognized that the lens of local media is not a one-way lens. How the media regards users is only as important as how users regard the media--they have to feel like it's theirs.
But, McClatchy has already announced that they will not retain ownership of some of the flagship media properties they just bought. Why would they sell some of the best-respected newspapers in the U.S., as well as the most popular local Web site in the fourth largest market in the country? (I'm referring to philly.com, of course).
Part of the reason is that the newspapers that are back on the block are not published in growth markets. But, another reason for the planned divestiture of the Web assets is that, when they launched the Web versions of their newspapers, Knight Ridder took an enormous advantage it had with its local brands and squandered it.
McClatchy understands the lens of local better than most publishers in the U.S. This is one reason why each of the local news outlets that McClatchy owns has its own unique look and feel. They aren't uniform. Think about it--if the leading buy for local media online has, for years, been Yahoo Local, perhaps it's because Yahoo was smart in encouraging users to tailor their millions of "My Yahoo" home pages to their own desires. By keeping a uniform template for all its digital outlets, Knight Ridder played the game on Yahoo's terms, but not with Yahoo's personalization. Had Knight Ridder kept its local assets local and asserted this locality, it might have been more successful at maintaining this advantage.
Joe Natoli, the publisher of PNI (Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.) which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, two of the former Knight Ridder assets still for sale, sent a memo to employees this past Tuesday, which was published by Jim Romenesko in Poynter Online, which is published by the Poynter Institute. (You may know Poynter as a go-to source on news about the newspaper industry. If you don't subscribe now, I recommend it.)
What Mr. Natoli wrote in his memo is noteworthy. To excerpt: As we prepare to disengage from Knight Ridder, let's figure out how to improve. For example, let's find ways to make philly.com more timely, easier to navigate and more reflective of our market. There will be many opportunities to improve upon what we do today.
As you think about local moving forward, and you hear about the huge opportunities in search and interactive Yellow Pages , be aware that, as great as these opportunities are, there are others brewing online that are even greater. As more professionals in our space learn this business and can serve their local populations, and more buying services make it easier to reach these users and bespoke publications, the pendulum that has long resided on the portal side of things will swing back to local media assets. You can bank on it--just as McClatchy and others are.