Many media experts lament the decline of local news in recent years, despite consumers primarily driving the trend. However, where some see a growing challenge, news and media entrepreneurs see a business opportunity. And the technology is ready. The question is whether the market will be allowed solve the problem, or whether regulators will stand in the way. Investors at are ready to pump $8.6 billion into TV affiliates across the country, revitalizing local news markets, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has delayed the permission for a year, the longest review process in recent memory.

The TV Transition to Digital

Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism convened the nations media policy experts on what to do about local TV news. Called the Local News Initiative, the goal of the effort is to reinvent the relationship between news organizations and audiences to elevate enterprises that empower citizens. The consensus of media experts is not all that all TV will become digital, but rather that traditional broadcast actors are not moving fast enough to adapt to a digital world. A renaissance is underway in some urban, suburban and rural areas as legacy media companies and recent digital start-ups like have begun communicating with readers via print, online, and even through phone text messaging.

Local news is changing with audience preference and technology. People under age 30 don’t consume news the same way as people over 60. Rachel Davis Mersey, dean at the University of Texas at Austin and professor of journalism, media and communications observes, “Local TV stations should use today’s favorable revenue flows to actively invest in serving the diversity of the marketplaces in which they’re based, delivering thoughtfully targeted content to audiences through a multitude of social and digital channels.” But as people cut the cord of their cable subscription, they often choose a la carte for streaming entertainment, not packages that include local news.

Mersey continues, “Too few local television stations are utilizing the opportunities afforded by digital platforms to serve niche audiences in their marketplaces. And even the best of that content is often difficult to find on their websites, which are typically not user-friendly, or on their crowded social media streams, which pair breaking news with evergreen and more targeted content.”

Simply put, the local broadcast news industry must evolve to stay relevant. If newsmakers can get the technology right, create the compelling content consumers demand, and deliver it to them in ways they now consume it, they can modernize their operations for the digital age. Annika Bergstrom, Professor of Journalism at the University of Gothenburg wrote in an email, “Quality news journalism is finding its way into the digital world…willingness to pay for quality journalism can increase, along with that the digital subscriptions.”

Read full story in Forbes

Forbes | by Roslyn Layton