Authenticity: Will Metro News Try It in 2014?


January 2, 2014

After decades of isolationism and independence from the rest of the world’s business trends, here’s hoping 2014 will be the year metro news organizations starts paying attention to the marketing revolution sweeping every other business category: authenticity of customer experience.

Examples of authenticity leading the way are everywhere. The “feel” of a cool coffeehouse is part of what customers pay for at Starbucks, not just the coffee. Costco attracts shoppers not just for it’s bargains, but also for the confidence that its workers are paid a fair wage. Popeye’s Chicken has experienced a surge in return diners since it began positioning itself as “authentic” Louisiana Cajun cooking. Everything about Zappos is about customer service. It goes on and on.

Customers want to not only know where their products and services come from, but also believe they are purchasing it in a unique environment with an experience particular to what they’re buying. For instance: Would you be more likely to return to a French bakery run by a pair of honest-to-Dieu Frenchmen, or to a spot run by an anonymous crew with no backstory?

Authenticity matters.

Joseph Pine, one of the leaders of the authenticity movement, calls it “experiential marketing” and has been stirring up a revolution in just about every industry. According to Pine, customers value products and services consider not just cost and quality, but the circumstances of how they obtain the product and service.

Pine’s TED talk is a must-watch.

In the news world, community and small town newspapers have been in the authenticity business from the very beginning, since editors know that when you get street names wrong and forget local high school rivalries, you quickly lose readers. It’s a lesson the best Patch.com editors learned quickly, but AOL corporate never really figured out, helping to lead to Patch.com’s collapse.

Pine is quick to point out that authenticity is not limited to ethnic restaurants.  Disney World’s Main Street USA, in all its plastic, animatronic glory, is an authentic experience too, since it is what you would expect from Disney. Everyone there is a “cast member” providing a glossed-over version of Americana that only exists in 1960’s era Disney movies.

In this way, Buzzfeed’s LOL and WTF labels help create a totally authentic experience for its “no haters” policy. Even though Buzzfeed is adding more hard news, nobody expects it to be the New York Times.

And niche news providers, like The Verge and Pitchfork have clear brands. Without their authenticity, they have no audience.

What passes as authenticity in local TV news. Compelling?

So then, what are metro dailies and local TV newscasts? “Up to the minute?” “Your home for news?” Meaningless blather and everyone knows it.

The problem with becoming authentic is that you have to choose an identity. And when you become one thing, you are clearly not another. So in Chicago: What if one TV news station became the “North Side News Source” and hired poofy-haired Lincoln Parkers? Another became crime reports and weather and employed a crew of hard-boiled guys in bad suits?

It might be a while for everything to take hold, but now you’d have consumer choice and authenticity. I know I’d watch the crime channel.

Maybe somebody will try that 2014.