Can chicken dinners be a golden egg?

Back in the 1980s, Chicago Tribune editor Jim Squires, when asked about the stunning growth of suburban daily newspapers encroaching on his paper’s circulation, blithely responded “People love chicken-dinner news.”

Now, the Trib in the 80s was not known for spending time on “chicken dinner” news — a metaphor for the ultra-local news ranging from village board meetings to school play stories and Rotary Club dinners — but learned once suburban daily and weekly papers gnawed away their market dominance. This was the news that would wind up taped (or held by magnets)to refrigerator doors across the nation. A six-part series on official malfeasance is true journalism, but what fed readers’ appetite for news was the small picture of their neighbor’s kid in the school play, the listing on what is playing at the community theater, the notice on when should they be putting their trash out on the curb.

The beauty of the chicken dinner news was that you necessarily didn’t need a reporting staff to dig up the information and turn it over. People in the community are dying to give you this stuff. Sure, in many cases it’s poorly written and you need a someone to translate it into meaningful copy, but the news is there, coming in a stead stream.

Flash forward to today. Papers are cutting back on staff and coverage because they can’t afford to produce a product like they did in the 80s. So thinner papers that are publishing less frequently are going out to readers.

But, in the community, the chicken dinner news still exists! And they still want to get noticed.

So why haven’t local papers taken advantage of that on the web? Taking the term community to mean “those with similar interests,” why aren’t more papers forming community portals for that information?

Why aren’t they providing social-media-like sites that allow posting of the uber-local information. Why don’t these portals provide virtual “refrigerator doors,” which allow users to post stories and photos generated from other sites, and allows them to share with friends and family — like a local-level version of Facebook.

These portals could draw readership and interest to local advertisers, who could also tout their own businesses and share with these communities.

Chicken dinner news could be a golden egg for readership and potential revenues.

So why aren’t we paying more attention to it?

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