What do we need and want from our local media?

Does local media even matter in an interconnected world?

Looking at the Chicago media landscape (where there is now no local newspaper daily TV critic/reviewer), WBEZ blogger Justin Kaufmann asked bluntly: What do local audiences want from local media? http://tiny.cc/729b9

This quickly slides to the more intriguing question: What do we really need “local” for? And what is “local” in the first place?

On the business side, the need is certainly there for news and analysis that hits close to home. Not just following Chicago-based properties (essential) but also local outlets of national companies(whose decision power usually rests elsewhere, on either coast). Voices from “on the ground” can help to break the “it’s just fly-over-country” attitude.

On the artistic side, though, a local perspective also fills a need. Online has already allowed for a lot of individual “locals,” clustered primarily by interest over geography. I’ve shared long commentary threads on programs such as Lost with others, geographically scattered but similarly engaged.

Ultimately, in whatever form, I’ve found “local” allows to-the-heart grounding. Local perspective focuses on connections a step away from the pure business calculus, back to the core that attracts individual interest, participation, and engagement … on the way to adding to millions of mass media customers.

The conversation becomes less rich with the departure of long-time geographic locals, especially in the mass market world of general audience newsprint. In straddling the worlds of old and new media, they have tried to cover areas of the media landscape a specific interest group might not think to seek out. (Fans of Mad Men and The Killing, meet your Bachelor, NCIS, and Glee neighbors.)

So what do we need from “local” media? We need and expect hard pushback questions of the assertions by business, government, and, yes, the media. (The old Chicago City News Bureau motto, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) Don’t try to kid us. Ask the follow-ups to eye-rolling initial answers. Be that Fourth Estate of legend.

But, oddly, we also want the opposite. Recognition of the positive and reaffirming. (Perhaps the City News Bureau corollary should be: “Once confirmed, at least acknowledge your mom’s affection.” ) We LIKE TV. We LIKE music. We LIKE sports. We LIKE media. We want to talk about it.

Increasingly, we need as many local voices out there as possible to push those questions and conversations forward. Close to the ground and local (by interest or geography) can help accomplish both goals.

Because no one cares about local issues as much … as locals.

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