InterCom’s May 19 evening program, Breaking the News: Part One, sparked a lively conversation on the challenges of getting effective local news coverage in a fast-changing media landscape. Representatives of regional media outlets, including Michigan Radio, the Battle Creek Enquirer, WMUK, Issue Media Group and Bridge Magazine explained their missions, coverage and especially funding hurdles, and began trying to answer the many questions raised by highly engaged attendees. (If you missed it, here’s Public Media Network’s video of that night.)
Even as the May program was being planned, we started getting calls for a follow-up program answering some of the questions raised, and exploring solutions. Breaking the News: Part Two on Aug. 25 brought about 50 people together, including representatives of a dozen local news outlets, for a lively World CafÃ©-style roundtable session to tackle the challenges raised in Part One.
The number and variety of organizations handling local news was impressive and eye-opening. They included John McNeill, News Director of Midwest Communications (radio stations WVFM, WKZO, Z96.5, The Touch, and The Fan Sports); Stephen Williams, General Manager, and Andy Robins, News Director of WMUK; Steve Ellis, Publisher of Spark and South County News; Kathy Jennings, Managing Editor of Second Wave Southwest Michigan; Marie Lee, Editor and Vice President of Encore and FYI magazines; Steve Raceme, General Manager and Robin Griffin, Editor of Vineyard Press, Inc. (The Courier-Leader); Darlene Mohr, Publisher/Editor and Michelle Morgan, Events Manager of Women’s LifeStyle Magazine; Glen Dillon, WMU Assistant Director of Student Media, YBOT, Western Herald and WIDR; Shannon Long, Company Representative, Welcome Home Magazine; Ashley Berens, Marketing and Promotions Coordinator, Public Media Network; and Jackie Merriam, Publisher, Good News Paper.
Two media entities were assigned to each of the six round tables, which were filled out by potential advertisers, professional communicators, and people “who value an informed community, as the invitation stated. The meeting was facilitated by Kristi Droppers of Collective Know-How LLC (also an InterCom board member), and began by having each table’s media representatives introduce themselves and with the help of the table, define their mission, which was then presented to the group at large.
Then Ms. Droppers instructed each group to engage in a BMW: a brief (timed) Bitch, Moan and Whine session. Each table listed grievances and had a chance to present them to the group. It became clear that several issues were common to every medium: funding topped the list, to nobody’s surprise.
Then, after a short break, all attendees were encouraged to swap tables and begin to explore solutions to the problems just identified. In this session, we noted the trend to expand across media to increase coverage, and to save money through online versus print publishing. It was agreed that funding for quality journalism was the toughest nut to crack in every case, and it has been difficult to replace the traditional advertising-supported funding model. Suggestions included philanthropic giving and the development of a cooperative with membership fees. All agreed that we had only begun to scratch the surface as the session ran past its scheduled end time.
Thank you to all who participated! We look forward to presenting a compilation (Media Landscape Map) of all the information gleaned from this stimulating community discussion: Stay tuned!
Jan Underhill is an InterCom board member and principal of J.R. Underhill Communications, offering marketing, graphic design and branding since 1980.