Yet Another Sanctimonious Column on Why Local Media Matters… Because It Does | OPINION
by Christopher M. Halleron
I’ve worked for a number of media outlets. Over the years, they’ve all been sold, merged with larger companies, or completely gone under. I might take it personally, were it not clearly the state of the industry on a whole.
Media is an absolute mess right now. Struggling for viability in the digital age, the titans of print have come crashing down around us all. From a business perspective, NO ONE in media knows what the hell they are doing. Sure, many can make a quick buck—but those who are encumbered by a nagging sense of ethics are struggling to do anything more than that.
In one of the more widely shared polemics in the wake of the Daily News cuts, sports broadcaster Michael Kay delivers an evocative and passionate rant that touches on the history behind local media outlets. I’m not naïve enough to believe that any of that still matters to anyone under the age of 40. (It matters to me, but I don’t fit that category.) Nostalgia is not a business model.
There are a lot of readers out there who are all too happy to mock the Daily News and its semi-demise. Some feel they’ve brought it on themselves, and there is an awful lot to be said for that. As outlets flail in the throes of a full-body fight for survival, sometimes we hit on things that leave us scarred and weakened. There’s sickness in the media ecosystem that has us gasping for air and clawing at whatever we can to get through the next quarter. Integrity is typically the first system to collapse, and sometimes we don’t make it.
“The media” as an industry now faces blanket condemnation as the carrier of contagion. These amputations will most certainly happen a lot more often, as a passionate sect of Americans gleefully slice off our ‘liberal’ nose to spite our face. If you’re too ignorant to see why a diminished media presence in our contemporary political climate is a bad thing, I’m not even going to waste the space here explaining it to you.
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Nor am I going to waste this space appealing to the media mega-conglomerates that it’s their duty to the communities they serve to yada-yada-yada… It’s all too apparent that the world is being run by the bad guys from Adam Sandler movies. Their unpaid interns aren’t going to read this, so why waste my breath screaming into the vacuum?
Just look at the disparity between ownership/management and staff at an outlet like the Daily News. Whether it’s media, Uber/Lyft, Amazon, or computerized kiosks at McDonald’s, this formula of fleecing the hard work of others for the sake of ungodly profit is becoming standard. Don’t be surprised when it metastasizes, sucking the livelihood out of your own industry.
For our purposes here, let’s focus on local media.
I’ve acknowledged that nostalgia isn’t a business model. The good ol’ days of walking into the five-and-dime and picking up a copy of the paper just for the funny pages are gone, for better or for worse.
But content IS a business model. Local media has a tremendous opportunity to be the source for positive, effective change in the digital media age, because we understand what matters.
Investing effort into strong local media will yield the most immediate results. We know our readers, we know our community, and we serve as a barometer for that community. We understand the issues facing our community because we’ve been part of it—some of us for a very long time.
As media mega-conglomerates become beholden to algorithms out of sheer laziness, they’re going to drop the ball on a lot of things that matter. Local media needs to pick up that ball and run with it. Over time, readers will once again recognize that. Over time, advertisers will once again recognize the validity of an organic readership that is genuinely engaged in its community. Over time, strong sales people will recognize the collective worth of all those individual advertisers—finding new ways to serve local business via the flexibility of online media, connecting them directly with an organic readership that is engaged in its community and appreciates strong content.
That content will become stronger, as local media is able to bring on more and more contributors, thereby taking the news out of the hands of the few and restoring it to the many. Local businesses and cultural initiatives will succeed at a greater rate as we have greater resources, giving us the bandwidth to cover more and more of the amazing things that go on in our community.
We’ll all sing “Kumbaya,” and have a big ol’ group hug…
We’re simply not there yet.
Speaking from experience, hMAG has faced considerable challenges.
We’ve scaled back our print because it wasn’t sustainable at its previous rate in a local media climate. Everyone wants to be in print, no one wants to advertise in print. Nevertheless, we’re pursuing opportunities to maintain a print presence… primarily because we think it’s a damn good looking publication.
Shifting gears in an effort to find viability online, meanwhile, it’s gotten bumpy. But we’ve seen it through and continue to post good numbers with an organic readership—no boosting, no buying followers, just building on our our merit with what we consider to be good content.
Unfortunately our current pay rates are on par with our current income. We’re not corporate fat-cats lighting our cigars with bills from our huge stacks of local media money—we struggle, like all small businesses struggle. Sometimes we come up short.
But we see the point in still doing it, because it’s what we do best.
At the end of the day, we genuinely enjoy sharing stories about our community—the good, the bad and the ugly. We endeavor to keep our readers informed, to hold our leaders accountable, and to shine a light on those who are doing what they can to make Hudson County a better place.
That said, we’re going to keep going as long as we can. We sincerely appreciate those of you who choose to come along with us.
Christopher M. Halleron is the Publisher/Editor of hMAG.
As a columnist and journalist, he has covered various aspects of life here in the ‘greater Hoboken area’ and beyond for the past two decades.
His opinions are his own.