Last week’s flooding disaster across parts of the UK illustrates at once the challenge and the opportunity for local newspapers.
The challenge is how a weekly – or even a daily newspaper – can possibly compete with rolling news outlets on such a rapidly changing story.
The answer, of course, is via their websites – and no-one else is better placed to do so.
No other news organisations have the sheer manpower at a local level to tell communities what is going on. TV news will provide an overview of events – but at a macro level. Local radio is closer to home, but listeners still face frustrating minutes waiting for an update that is relevant to their area.
Only local newspaper websites can provide the sheer depth of detail, available instantly – and with a story like this, minutes could prove vital.
Readers need to find out instantly whether their house is at risk of flooding – and if a local paper can’t do that, it will not be long before a commercial competitor does so. (The Environment Agency is useful up to a point – but still general and slow compared to what a local paper can do).
At the Gloucester Citizen and Echo the papers’ joint website ThisIsGloucestershire has been providing updates every 15 minutes up until midnight. Often they are just snippets of information – not like news stories at all – revealing the location of drinking water across the county, which roads are closed and which shops have supplies of food and drink.
The Gloucester experience shows that local papers have little choice but to provide as comprehensive a news service as they can online.
In the short term, this coverage should at least market the paper to a new audience. In the long term, the commercial teams must start capitalising on web readers.