We looked back at the local publishers that are seeing significant engagement in two different countries, looking at both the United States and the United Kingdom. 

Our monthly English-language rankings often have a national bias, as publishers covering the big trends in politics and national and international news naturally receive more attention. So we decided to analyze the local stories and publishers that are getting the most public interest.

Let’s dive in. 

Local-national publishers

There are some publishers which, though they do have local coverage, see most of their engagement come from national news. These tend to be old-school newspapers that have been around for decades, and have grown into national news organizations. We thought it unfair to include these in our overall analysis but include them here for comparison. 

Below are the engagements for the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, and The New York Daily News. 

Chart showing the top local/national publishers of the last year, ranked by engagement

This mostly serves as a useful benchmark for the local publishers that will feature in the next two sections, but is interesting in itself. The New York Times and The Washington Post are the most dominant of these publishers by a considerable distance, which makes sense due to their status as premier print institutions. 

The New York Post was not too far behind, while the New York Daily News and the L.A. Times saw considerably fewer engagements, with 119 million and 87 million for the year respectively. 

These, by most metrics, cannot be categorized as local publishers in the sense we are most interested in here, due both to the population size of the cities they serve and the type of content that they produce. 

So let’s take a look at some of the truly local publishers that succeeded in driving engagement over the last year.

The top local U.S. publishers 

To identify these publishers, we looked at the top publishers in English overall for Q2 of 2020, and used that to identify the ten most engaged local publishers. We then took these publishers and extended the time range back to one year ago, to get a full picture of how successful they have been.

The top local publishers in the U.S. tended to be the locally-affiliated television stations of the big cable networks, with eight of the top ten local publishers falling into that category. 

Histogram showing the top local U.S. publishers of the last year, ranked by engagement

They received between 88 million and 55 million engagements, and three received more than 80 million engagements. These were Fox’s Chicago outlet, ABC’s Los Angeles outlet, and Patch, which covers a huge array of localities across the U.S. 

In terms of who was the most successful for content performance Fox 32 Chicago dominated.

Chart showing the top local articles of the last year, ranked by engagement

The three top stories from the publisher all saw enormous engagement, and were about Amber Alerts, though strangely these were not necessarily focused on Chicago alone. We have seen these be highly shared before as people in the affected region tend to share them with their local networks. 

The common thread among all the stories was personal narratives, whether that be feel-good or asking for support of some form, with one major outlier being WFLA advertising the full moon date.

To get a broader view, we can also break this out to show the top story for each publisher. 

Chart showing the top article for each of the top local publishers in the U.S., ranked by engagement

This provides a different picture, though each of the top ten saw engagements of more than half a million on their top stories. 

Once again though, a common theme is human-interest stories, with individuals standing out rather than national news or broad trends. Even when those broad trends are invoked, it tends to be from a personal angle. 

But what about the United Kingdom? Is there a similar story there?

The top local U.K. publishers

We used the same methodology to identify the most engaged local publishers in the United Kingdom. 

Looking at the U.K. there is a clearer dominant publisher, though the first thing of note is that engagement is lower overall apart from that one dominant publisher, which is the Manchester Evening News. The lower engagement is expected due to the smaller market, among other factors. 

Histogram showing the top local publishers in the U.K., ranked by engagement

The Manchester Evening News is comfortably ahead of all of its competitors, with almost double the engagements of any of the other local publishers. Indeed, it is the only one of its peers that saw enough engagement to compete with the levels that the local U.S. publishers received. There is some debate over whether the London Evening Standard constitutes a truly local publisher, but we include it here for the purposes of comparison.

Looking at the top stories, we see that there is a much more national focus among the most engaged articles, with only three focused on the region they serve specifically. There is still a useful point to be made with this information, however, with people turning to their local source of information for updates on national and international news, showing the high regard in which they hold their local outlet.

Chart showing the most engaged local articles in the U.K., ranked by enngagement

Both the Standard and Manchester Evening News saw considerable success in writing on a broad range of topics, though both obviously covered local topics too, albeit to fewer engagements.

Chart showing the most engaged article for each local publisher in the U.K., ranked by engagement

Looking on a publisher level once more, the local nature of the stories came through more. There was once more a focus on individual stories, though the death of beloved local animals also was brought to the fore in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Belfast. 

Overall, it is obvious that telling stories of people and their interaction with their communities tends to be the most engaging type of content for local publishers. This type of storytelling has seen many of the stories achieve tens if not hundreds of thousands of engagements, with the publisher engagements numbering in the millions for the year. 

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Benedict Nicholson

Benedict Nicholson is the Managing Editor at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.

Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.