For me, the wildcard is knowing the economics of these efforts. Are they entirely unprofitable or are the profits just lower than they have been traditionally? Kole’s description of WXNT, in particular, reminds me of the progression I’ve seen in local newspapers. They are confronted with the increasing fluidity of the Internet mediascape. And, by this, I don’t just mean that things change more quickly. I also mean that, since media has become digitized, content behaves more like a liquid than a solid. When something was fixed in a book, you had to labor to copy and/or transport it. Now, content can mostly just flow from place to place.
Confronted with this new challenge, it seems to me that newspapers have reacted in exactly the wrong way; and WXNT seems to be doing the same. Rather than focusing on the content least likely to be outsourced, they let that content go and offer the content that looks most like a commodity. They let go of the local content that requires shoe leather and effort and, instead, offer opinion, wire services, and – in WXNT’s case – nationally syndicated talk shows. (Now nationally syndicated sports shows, apparently).
The profit margins may well be better for that easy to produce, easy to obtain content in the short term. But, in the long term, you’re going to get undercut time after time with that stuff. Someone will offer it for less (or free), and margins will continue dropping. The locally produced stuff may be slower and more expensive, but it’s less replaceable. I don’t know whether you can make a profit producing that kind of content, but I have a strong suspicion it’s the only real bet for long term viability of our local papers and radio stations.