Macon Featured in Pew Research Journalism Study of Media

localIn a recently released Pew research report, they compare the media in Denver, Macon, and Sioux City using a number of factors. By using surveys, news, content analysis, interviews, social media interaction and several other means, they were able to get some pretty detailed results. They discovered that “Nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely — and about half do so very closely.” That is the good news to local for-profit media organizations. The bad news is that most people are unwilling to pay for that content. 

The report also suggests important areas where local newsrooms and especially local digital news entrepreneurs like Global Watchdog can and should do more to meet the diverse needs of their communities by filling in the gaps of coverage. Many in local markets feel left out and there are major gaps in coverage where the fifth estate is now covering. The fifth estate refers to blogs, citizen journalists, and social media groups like my Facebook site Headline News Reports that are more nimble and focused.

A few Key Snippets from The Pew Report

Local TV is the dominant news source in Macon,GA at  66%. The Daily newspaper reaches only around 36% and shows signs of shrinking even further.

Weather is dominant as the local topic of most interest. In Macon 69% followed weather very closely, crime was second at 51%, schools and education came in third at 33% largely because of Romain Dallemand in past years though interest in education may now decline with a less controversial superintendent.

Digital viewing is growing. For 38% of Macon residents, the internet is a very important way they keep up with the news.

Social media is also becoming a major part of the digital news experience. Roughly a third of Macon residents (35%) access a news source through a social networking sites. About four-in-ten Macon residents (41%) who use local digital-only outlets access them via social networking sites and not directly.

In Macon, crime is on par with weather as a topic of conversation. Eight-in-ten residents often discuss the topic. The local economy and politics are also popular with four-in-ten discussing this daily.

Overall, half of Denver residents (49%) say that the city is an excellent place to live. That is true of just a quarter (24%) of Sioux City, Iowa  residents and a mere 9% of Macon residents. Instead, 43% of Macon residents describe the Macon area as a fair or poor place to live.

Only 21% of people in Macon say their local media do an excellent job meeting the needs of the community in their coverage. Or another way to look at it is 79% aren’t satisfied.

In both Denver and Macon, residents are about twice as likely to report getting news from local TV as from their daily newspaper: In Macon 66% often gets news from at least one of the four local T.V. stations, compared with 36% who turn to the paper, The Telegraph.

Fellow residents also play a substantial role as a source for news. They play the largest role in Macon, with 37% of residents often relying on friends and neighbors for local news, as do 28% of Sioux City residents and 23% of Denver residents.

To see more detailed statistics and charts please visit Local News Interest High Across the Board; Specific Habits Vary

The Role of Race and Ethnicity In The News

The report found that both race and ethnicity are among the greatest divides when it comes to news habits. Even more interesting was that in both Denver and Macon people of color follow local news more closely and at a higher rate than white residents. In Denver, a much larger city than Macon, there are nine media outlets serving the Hispanic population. In Macon to my knowledge there is only one weekly catering to Hispanic local news and only one catering to black residents. The Pew report didn’t mention it by name but I think they might have been speaking about The Informer. This website has been around many years and I believe is the one Pew referenced.

There appears to be a huge opening for other media outlets catering to underserved segments of the population  including another one for Black  and Hispanic residents as well. I speak Spanish fluently though I barely have time as it is to write my articles in English. But that certainly seems to suggest someone needs to find the time  for such an underserved market in Macon.

You would think the other local media would have reported the results of this Pew report but since it shows them in a very bad light, I am not surprised they haven’t. To my knowledge no local media have a Spanish speaking section or one dedicated to covering African-American topics of interest which is surprising considering the demographics of Bibb county. There are a lot of people asleep at the wheel it would appear.

I would certainly like to extend an invitation to all groups regardless of race or ethnicity that feel unheard and unimportant. Please send us your articles, your videos, and your thoughts. I want Global Watchdog (gwmac.com) to be a voice for all the people of Middle Georgia and to try and cover a wide range of topics that the local media have ignored. You now have a platform so please use us as your megaphone and get involved by contributing content.

Buscamos escritores. Si usted es un periodista en busca de escribir sobre temas alrededor de Macon, por favor póngase en contacto con nosotros. Queremos dar a todos los residentes de una voz y un sitio web para las noticias locales en español. Macon necesita de noticias en lengua española. Pero necesitamos su ayuda. Pero no te burles de mi ceceo castellano. 😎 Viva Sevilla! Viva España!

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

In terms of how satisfied people are with local media, only 18% of Denver residents and 21% of Macon residents are satisfied with the local media ecosystem. There seems to be a huge gap between local interest in news and local satisfaction with news. Macon and other cities crave access to relevant, timely, useful local information and news but right now our local news ecosystems are not meeting that need.

In order to close that gap the media has to reflect on the underserved diversity, but equally if not more important is the delivery. The report also noted that “Civically engaged residents are more connected with their local news and are drawn to a more diverse set of news sources”.

Although I may be biased since this website is my baby, I think my design and ease of use with search, tags, and the overall layout blows away sites like WMAZ, the Macon Telegraph and others. Global Watchdog looks perfectly at home in the year 2015 while the others seem dated and are so riddled with ads that people are turned off. They are slow, bloated, and confusing.  They are more suited to a decade ago and do not seem as functional or as comfortable with Web  5.0 technologies. I would even be surprised if many of their executives even knew what that term meant. They were certainly designed by people who grew up using Windows 3.1.

On WMAZ any video you click forces you to sit through a video ad and the Macon Telegraph’s website is no better with incessant and very annoying ads. Yes, I use ads here as well, but I try and keep them less intrusive and as hidden as possible. My other shortcoming is simply lack of content by having a small group of people contributing versus a large paid staff of full-time employees. It is impossible for a website like mine to produce the quantity of content of traditional media but we focus more on the quality as well as providing something the media fails to provide which is in-depth analysis and commentary.

Local Radio Show Doing a Good Job of Filling in Gap

One local independent TV and radio station called WPGA have a show called Live in the Morning featuring Gail Daniels, Buddy Leach, and Phil Palma, Professor Thom Mead and callers to the station. This is a great example of getting people involved and letting them actively contribute and have a voice and feel engaged and involved.

Gail Daniels wrote this about her show “Well the citizens of Macon/Bibb County do have a voice on Live in the Morning from 6am-8am on WPGA. Many local politicians tune in to hear what the callers have to say. We interviewed the Lake Tobo fishermen, David Davis and David Cooke in regards to that story. The Mayor has made many appearances, Al Tilman will be on this week and Leon Jones is a regular caller. Our viewers are varied with an even mix of black and white. So while we are small and don’t have the big networks behind us there are other choices besides the big 3 in Macon.” 

People Want to Participate In The News

This is something I know all too well. Long before I read the Pew Report I knew that local people weren’t being used effectively as sources or given a platform. When you look at events all around the world and even in the U.S., it is often from a video taken on a smartphone by a eyewitness to a news story. But local news outlets are not engaging citizens creatively or deeply as part of their journalism. They still have an “us” vs. “them” mentality. Journalists tend to be very territorial and don’t like to let people contribute more than a few lines in a story at most. They are suspicious of outsiders and often arrogant.

Local media occasionally uses citizens as a part of the news process, but mainly only for quotes or as disseminators by sharing on Facebook. Commenting on stories, or on the media’s Facebook wall, or calling in on a radio station are the usual ways they interact with the public. These uses are a passive form of engagement, but the public yearns to be more involved in the creative and editorial side as well.  Local media is doing a piss-poor job of crowdsourcing, hands on journalism, open editorial meetings, and allowing citizens to help drive the stories are rarely if ever used.

The public have little opportunity for any meaningful input or feedback on the types of stories they want covered. They have almost no opportunity beside a heavily edited letter to the editor to have their voices heard. That is why people are longing for more and use social media so extensively because it gives them a voice. Every Facebook or Twitter account is their own digital newspaper to the world. Sometimes that is not always a good thing. Just ask Justine Sacco whose life was ruined by one careless tweet.

A great example where the local paper fails is the Macon Telegraph’s Opinion Editor Charles Richardson. I think a large part of Macon is very dissatisfied with his columns. Many have told me they cancelled their subscriptions out of disgust and protest from his columns that supported Romain Dallemand. Yet, the management of the paper seems to be blind, deaf, and dumb over falling subscriptions or just the fact that they have an editor delivering a consistently inferior product. Even when he wasn’t singing Dallemand’s praises he was never a very good writer but at least he wasn’t a lightning rod that resulted in subscription cancellations.

I started this website back in July of 2014 because I saw a need for more in-depth analysis and intelligent discourse. I do not have the manpower or the resources of much larger local and established media to cover crime stories, local sports games, and things of that nature (yet) but I saw a desperate need for something beyond simply reporting on the who, what, when, and where. Lacking in local media was anyone willing to ask or answer “Why? or How?” and “What can be done?”  Local media seem afraid to ever proffer an opinion for fear of angering someone. That is not an affliction I suffer from and will gladly write down my opinions regardless of the repercussions if I am sure of my facts, sources and have a firm conviction. It is fine for sincere people to disagree, but so many people in Macon seem so afraid of ever even debate or criticize that apathy set in. Perhaps my brazen and unabashed radical honesty is a bit refreshing to some. And even when you vehemently disagree with my positions  I hope to at least make you think and start a conversation going where we may all learn a thing or two about the opposing viewpoints. Polite debate is necessary to evolve on issues and move forward. Though I have no problem banning trolls that simply want to derail the debate and criticize either.

Descriptive journalism certainly has it’s place and is still needed, but so it analytical journalism that helps take readers to a deeper level and can arouse more engagement in the community. When you read about a local story like a shooting, we all want to hear the relevant details and facts. But then we want to know why it happened and what are some steps we can take to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

This is what is lacking in traditional media in Macon and many other cities as news organs with ever-smaller budgets and a shrinking staff further must now face. It becomes harder to recruit quality reporters in a dying profession.  It also makes it hard to keep good writers like Andrea Castillo who moved on to greener pastures in Virginia. Notice that her new home at the Daily Press has a  website that seems more at home in the year 2015  than her former employer at the Macon Telegraph. Good luck Andrea and even though we miss you we understand why you left. Several other good reporters and columnists from the Telegraph have also recently left.

None of the local media in Macon have any local analytical writers or thinkers. They also do very little investigative journalism which is what people desperately crave. They have syndicated columnists from outside Macon, but none covering local stories. David Oedel used to perform that function until Charles Richardson decided to fire him. Macon needs more sites like Global Watchdog and the Macon Monitor. Perhaps one covering  local sports, one dedicated to entertainment, others covering only politics and any other niches that the traditional media fails to adequately cover in depth.

Descriptive news articles simply give the facts and details which are essential, but they have no one on their staff to analyze those facts and take it to the next level like newspapers in larger cities. For example the AJC have analysts covering  politics  and  education. Macon has nothing similar.  I try and provide that here which is one reason I have risen to such popularity in Middle Georgia so rapidly. Some of my articles have received 16,000 hits which is pretty impressive considering I spend no money on paid advertising at all and people find me from social media or searches alone. I have articles with over 8,000 Facebook likes which local media rarely ever achieve.

Even though I am ahead of local media with the realization I want more active citizen journalists involved, that has not translated into connecting with them to the point that I have a steady stream of people volunteering articles or videos. I would love to be able to marshal the creativity and energy of engaged citizens to add more content on this website but I have so far been largely unsuccessful. This is something I want to change. I need to connect with all the writers and video journalist in the area and convince them to share their stories. I would love to partner with other independent news sites to work as a consortium and share content.

Nearly all my guest writers are from Atlanta and North Georgia and precious few from Middle Georgia. That is a conundrum I have yet to solve. How do I identify and excite these engaged citizens to the point that they decide to submit articles, or videos, or simply give me ideas for stories? That I have yet to figure out, but I am persistent and unlike older and more established media in Middle Georgia it is a problem I want to solve. They don’t even realize it is a problem they NEED to solve.

Good News Ain’t Free

As fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for news, how do media outlets survive? I didn’t start this blog to become a millionaire. I didn’t even start it with the ambition of making a profit, but did hope to at least make enough to cover my costs of running it. Anyone can start a free blog on WordPress or Blogger but those sites are very limited. They are fine for many people that want simplicity and don’t care all that much about design or extended features but if you want to build a site like mine you need to use much more advanced themes and tools. Hosting, CDN’s, additional premium extensions all begin to add up as well and these are needed as your site grows. But more importantly the essential ingredient for any website is the content. If you produce quality content your audience will grow.

When you look at Macon , the local paper has in my opinion failed pretty spectacularly in their transformation to a largely digital world. Now I can’t completely fault the Telegraph because I believe their hands are tied by their McClatchy Company overlords that own the paper and likely control the design and advertising aspects of the Telegraph. I think people understand and accept the fact that ads are a part of life on the web.

Many people use adblockers to try and keep them under control. I also use ads on my site and have tried various iterations and I think I have finally managed to choose ads that are not terribly invasive. I also offer donations as an additional option. But the Macon Telegraph simply has gone overboard. They use every type of ad imaginable including those annoying popup ads and ones you have to dismiss or are forced to view before you can read any content. That angers people to the point that they are reluctant to even bother after a while.

The Macon Telegraph is in a catch-22 situation. Their revenues are declining as people increasingly get their news free from social media, the internet and T.V. so they are forced to increase the quantity of ads to keep the lights on. But as the quantity of the ads increase, the number of people visiting the site also decreases so they increase the ads. They then need to raises subscription prices which drives even more to cancel.  It becomes a death spiral after a while and this is proven by the increasing number of newspapers simply giving up and shuttering their doors.

The Solution

I think eventually media organizations need to realize that more cooperation is needed between the various formats. Instead of being competitors, they need to join forces and resources. For example in Macon, imagine if WGXA or WMGT  and the Macon Telegraph merged and became one organization where the news departments worked together and had me run the merged company  😎

There is a great deal of duplication of effort. No longer would this new entity need to send multiple reporters to cover crime, sports, and other local stories. Yes, they would need to reduce the staff with identical job titles doing the exact same stories, but they would also get enormous savings by using one building instead of two, by having a much smaller staff, and would also be able to cover far more stories that ever before with more people than either entity previously had before the merger.

They would still need a better internet guru because neither of them are terribly good in that arena. The synergy of one company having a powerful print, TV, and web presence presents a lot of possibilities.

Instead of a newspaper and TV competing against each other for a scoop, they would coordinate and work together. The TV and internet sites works great for breaking news but the print edition would still be essential for more in-depth detail that is impossible to deliver in a 22 minute T.V. broadcast. WMAZ is already dominant in Middle Georgia so this wouldn’t appeal to them. WMAZ is also owned by Gannett which is far larger than McClatchy and only recently began divesting themselves of their print newspaper holdings.

A far more interesting merger would be between the local FOX/ABC or WMGT 41 NBC affiliates with the Telegraph. If that were to come to pass, they might be able to challenge the dominance of WMAZ in Middle Georgia with a combined strength. McClatchy is currently in very dire straits as I have reported a few times here before. Their stock is dangerously close to penny stock status, they have declining revenues with a bleak outlook, a billion dollar debt hanging over a company valued at only $162 million, and a CEO who seems befuddled by digital media. If the Macon Telegraph is to survive it will likely need to be sold off and put under new local management not so tied to old thinking. It would also mean firing people at the Telegraph largely responsible for falling subscriptions and including analytical and investigative journalism and not purely descriptive news .

I also don’t understand why 24 WGXA-TV/FOX/ABC 16 which are owned by the same company continue to waste money on two separate news broadcasts. Simply choose the best of the staff from both stations and broadcast the identical news show on both channels. That saving might allow a far superior product than the current model which hasn’t chipped away at the dominance of WMAZ to date. I actually prefer the weather reports from Jeff Cox as his voice is not as nasally as Ben Jones from WMAZ and he also seems to be a knowledgeable meteorologist. I would be surprised if Jones majored in meteorology in college and didn’t take some correspondence or extension courses instead. But then again many others in Macon seem to like him so I may be in the minority of those that don’t really see him as my “go to” weatherman.

Local media also needs to realize that citizens in the community need to be involved and engaged and as news contributors. Journalists aren’t guardians of the Holy Grail.  As I have hopefully shown on this website, there are other people in Middle Georgia with something of value to contribute. I may not have a journalism degree but I have several other degrees, experience, and expertise on a range of issues no one else in the local media possess. Why aren’t people like me and so many other voices in Macon being asked to contribute? Instead of trying to co-opt people like David Oedel, local politicians, retired professionals with time, and so many other notable local people and experts on a wide range of issues, they instead try and isolate and discount our voices. That is a dangerous mistake because it is wasting a valuable resource.

Media is changing rapidly. T.V. stations seems to be largely immune and that seems to be a safe platform for several more years. Print journalism on the other hand is already perilously close to the edge of the abyss. Back in August of 2014 I asked Do We Have a Fourth Estate Left To Save?  Many months later I think they are largely being pushed aside and instead the new fifth estate is here and already taking their place because they didn’t want to give us a seat at the table. Long Live the fifth estate!

What are your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Alan Wood March 25, 2015 Reply
  2. Dave Oedel March 24, 2015 Reply

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