Journalism: the altruistic, all-encompassing term that means so many things in today’s media landscape. In the world of regional magazine publishing, it is a passion and a problem, a holy-grail like trait that for so many in the local media world these days is nonexistent.
Regional magazines should inform, connect, and reflect the communities that support them if they expect to survive. Many regionals enjoy high subscriber renewal rates—not just for what their masthead says but, likewise, for the integrity of the content contained in every edition, post, and tweet.
Being close to your market is both a blessing and a curse, and subscribers will think nothing of sending off a “rocket”—whether via phone or text—if they think you stepped out of bounds (or, somewhat humorously, decided to make a change without their consent).
The rapid proliferation of entrepreneurs entering the media landscape on the local level, whether in print, digital, blogging, or Facebook, is simply due to the ease of entry and some notion that it is quite lucrative. The fact is, city and regional magazines are local businesses, often privately held, with the same small business concerns about cash flow and collections as the deli down the street.
That, combined with the overused buzz words of the day: ad blockers and native advertising, has fueled an irreverence for that holy grail many of us still hold dear.
Yes, we are all guilty of too many (albeit properly labeled) special marketing sections. And yes, we have all ventured into the digital equivalent on our web portals, Facebook pages, and Twitter. However, the new breed of media entrepreneurs often to appear to have nothing but disdain for the church and state standards.
While they may (whether in print or digital) look just like us (four color coated stock), that is often where the resemblance ends.
So many of us in the regional world are confronted with unscrupulous competitors who would just as easily sell a positive story in conjunction with an advertising commitment without a second thought. Add to that the web portal magazines, local news sites, bloggers, the adoption of product placement and endorsements in locally produced lifestyle television, and it’s no wonder the local advertiser—whether savvy or not—is confused about what works and doesn't work. Unfortunately, the value of journalism is lost because so many of the alternatives are "just so cheap."
Over almost twenty years, in good times and in bad, we have run stories, columns, and content that have cost us dearly and, in most cases, without remorse. However, local folks always seem to have long, lingering memories, which makes Monday morning quarterbacking the curse of every regional publisher.
But I still think that holy grail is half full rather than empty.