By Joe Lanane • LMA Contributor
When news outlets disappear from the community, it doesn’t just impact the readers who lose access to information. It also represents one less opportunity for local businesses to connect with potential customers directly.
The Local News Network offers a new business model to help small and rural news deserts regain momentum. The broadcast outlet produces individual news stories that air at various video displays across each market. The stories are packaged with local business advertisements, which LNN produces, or advertisers provide.
LNN started in 2018 in Durango, Colorado, and has since expanded to include three other Southwest Colorado towns: Telluride, Montezuma and Pagosa Springs. The company is also in the process of expanding to Farmington, New Mexico, said CEO Laurie Sigillito, who leads a team of seven part-and-full-time employees.
“Once we started pushing short video news stories into our community, we realized there really is no reason we can’t take what we’ve just done in Durango and duplicate it and offset a lot of that cost by editing remotely and distributing centrally for other communities across the country,” she said.
Sigillito doesn’t have a traditional news or media background; rather, her experience is in systems integration and engineering. In this case, she reengineered the concept of out-of-home (OOH) advertising, which Sigillito insists “has taken off and is beginning to mature.”
“This creates a new way of selling advertising to a captive audience,” Sigillito said. “Then it comes back to content— it has to be relevant and engaging to locals.”
Seeking options beyond an expensive 30-minute newscast, Sigillito instead focused on making short-form video news stories. She pushed her broadcast news around town, touting the combination of local information and local ads into local businesses where customers tend to dwell, such as banks, DMVs, sports clubs, restaurants and other establishments that already have TV sets and a captive audience.
“We established this avenue to entertain a local news audience with good local information and serve up ads in the process,” Sigillito said. “Now our clients are being seen by locals as they journey throughout their day.”
The content is also delivered across other platforms, including email newsletters, online video feeds and even podcasts. Sigillito said LNN has a system to effectively scale content across platforms, thus reducing the cost of news production and distribution.
“We can slice and dice our video content in many different ways, so we focus on good content creation and then distribute it as many ways as possible, so our consumers can watch, read or listen to it whenever and wherever they want,” she said.
That is all being done as part of a centralized production effort. Local journalists video record interviews and capture B-roll before writing a broadcast script, which is then packaged and pushed to remote editors to complete the editing process. Sigillito said LNN has automated its distribution process to ensure the content is customized to each destination in the proper format.
“That whole distribution process can be cumbersome and expensive. When we automate and centralize it, we can offset costs and ensure quality and timely distribution,” she said.
That extends to the sales process, too, Sigillito said. LNN can help a client target its audience in Southwest Colorado across 30 digital displays, websites and social posts. Or she can help a business get its message into a specific town, strategically picking distribution locations where their ad is best received — just restaurants or only the vehicle registration office, for example.
“While a newspaper goes out to everybody, we can be more specific where we push, which opens up our inventory and reduces the cost of advertising to our clients,” she said.
The content itself tends to “celebrate our communities” rather than serve a watchdog role. Sigillito said LNN’s markets have embraced this approach so far.
“People don’t want to just listen to watchdog news—they have that nationally already,” she said.
If all goes as planned, Sigillito predicts LNN will be in 25 markets by the end of 2021, with plans to double that number even quicker. For now, much of those new markets are slated to be corporate-owned, but the network is set up to support affiliate licenses, too.
“Once we get to 50, then we feel like we can really scale quickly and reach more regional and national advertisers,” she said. “All we really need is an experienced journalist in a community and a salesperson who understands that community and its surrounding towns.”