How Local News Syndication Works Online

What is Local News Syndication?

In the world of local news, there exist (somewhat) hidden networks of information sharing that fuel the 24/7 news cycle. These networks allow local news outlets to essentially pool resources and share content instantly with similar outlets in their network.

We’re talking about local news syndication. If you earn coverage in one of the outlets, you could see that coverage amplified across said network. This means one media placement turns into dozens, sometimes hundreds, of placements online.

Local news syndication offers valuable links back to your digital PR campaigns without spending hours on outreach. For digital marketers looking to maximize results, this is an appealing prospect.

How Does Local News Syndication Happen?

To understand “how,” you first must understand the “why?” Local news outlets are strapped for resources and often unable to fulfill their content demands with exclusively local content. Think about it: what does local news coverage look like? Do you think a single station can produce a 24/7 news content cycle?

Sometimes that’s just the nature of a local market, other times it’s the result of short staffing and limited budgets. When you throw in their websites and social media profiles, the demand for content grows exponentially. 

Local news syndication allows associations, or networks, of local news outlets to essentially pool their resources. They upload content like videos, scripts, web articles, etc. to a central hub. Members of their network can then pull, verbatim if they want, that content to their websites, newscasts, and newspaper pages. 

The digital PR industry often fails to understand how the structure of media ownership leads to local news syndication. This knowledge gap often leads to missed opportunities for earning online media coverage. You can understand how content gets shared across digital platforms by understanding the basics of corporate ownership and affiliate networks.

Let’s focus on syndication the “big three” of local news: local television stations, local newspapers, and local radio stations. We’ll also highlight examples of local news syndication (network and affiliate) for each.

The primary goal of each medium is to deliver relevant, local-leading information to their target audiences. This is why breaking news stories about community violence, severe weather, and government ordinances all take precedent in local news coverage. But things are shifting beyond the realm of “strictly local,” thanks to the internet.

Local News in a Digital Age

For decades, local news was “local” for two main reasons: 

  1. People weren’t as connected to outside communities
  2. Technological constraints.

You had to live within the broadcast signal’s radius to know what was happening in any given community. But with the internet…that’s no longer necessary. Now, anyone can view any local TV station or newspaper’s website and see the top stories. 

Local news media often dedicate sections of their sites to “national” and “entertainment” stories to meet content needs. It’s a cultural shift ushered in with the digital age. People want information all the time, and they want it from everywhere 

It’s in these categories that content marketers can find space for their content!

Corporate Ownership of Local Media & the Rise of Local Content Syndication

As digital media is on the rise, local media ownership is decreasing. Instead, media consolidation into conglomerates is a national phenomenon. Nationwide, a smaller group of much bigger corporations now own local news media outlets.

Pyramid illustrating local media ownership

Why does this matter for your content strategy?

It’s simple: Fewer owners mean more widespread syndication across networks. Which means the greater the chances your content has to be shared and syndicated across digital channels.

How Content Syndicates Across Local Newspaper Groups

Here’s how newspaper syndication works: while there are more than 2,600 individual newspaper owners in the country, one-third are controlled by just 25 companies. 

The resulting rise of non-local ownership has produced a new type of newsgathering and production. Now, newspapers owned by the same parent company function as syndication partners. They share stories to fill their own digital platforms, even if it’s not immediately local to their audiences. 

This content sharing explains how the same article appeared in both Delaware Today as well as in The Desert Sun

Desert Sun newspaper home page with Delaware Today article

How Content Syndicates Across Local Radio Stations

Here’s how radio syndication works: local radio is often a hodge-podge of news and entertainment content. Many listeners fail to realize that news content isn’t just reserved for serious, news-oriented talk shows. Most local stations incorporate a combination of local and viral stories on their radio show programming slots.

While sometimes this content is unique to the local station, it’s often syndicated content shared within a network. Major commercial broadcasters and radio networks like iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media, Townsquare Media, and Audacy, Inc. own hundreds of local radio stations across the U.S. There is also syndication through affiliate networks of stations within a given state, or within a similar brand (i.e. NPR). 

When a story has the right high quality content, we see syndication in dozens of stations owned by these radio giants within a matter of hours of publication. 

Like newspapers and television stations, radio stations are competing for digital audiences as well. Syndicated content makes for great fodder for radio’s websites and social media feeds. High-click content attracts valuable ad dollars. 

How do you detect this syndicated radio content?

When you look at the radio stations’ websites, syndicated content is obvious to spot: same header image, same author, same headline.

syndicated news headlines across local radio stations

Another trick is to examine the URLs of two syndicated stories: do you notice similarities? For example, we noticed that all syndicated stories from Townsquare Media have /ixp/ in the URL before the same text, regardless of station. Through some copy/pasting we discovered hundreds of syndicated articles by tracking the URL!

How Content Syndicates Across Local Television Stations

Our digital PR team has several former local television journalists on-staff. Because of this, we deeply understand the dynamics of local television stations. While reporters and anchors will fuel the daily on-air broadcasts and log accompanying web stories, the demands for “extra” content on the station’s website and social media feel non-stop. Here’s how television syndication works: local television stations’ syndication occurs in two primary ways to fill those content demands: 

  • Affiliate syndication
  • Ownership syndication

How do TV network affiliates work?

Local stations are traditionally “affiliated” with one of the four leading broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, or FOX. Network affiliation explains how people everywhere can view the same episode of Grey’s Anatomy, simply by tuning into an ABC affiliate on Thursday nights.

Grey's Anatomy cast photo

On the news side of things, local network affiliates have access to information gathered by others nationwide. 

When breaking news happens in Miami, NBC affiliates can access the footage, scripts, and information through a central network hub. These hubs aren’t just for breaking news. Affiliates will categorize and upload content ranging from heart-warming features, political updates, to general entertainment features for others in their affiliate network to grab and use. 

Local affiliates also have access to content produced on the national level. For example, if NBC Nightly News has an exclusive investigation, its affiliates have access to all the published content.

How is content shared between TV stations owned by the same company?

A new type of news sharing partnership has emerged as corporate ownership groups amass more and more media. Stations owned by the same parent company routinely share information and media assets group wide. 

According to a study by the Radio Television Digital News Association, 75% of local stations share content within an ownership group. Sometimes it’s just the web story, sometimes it’s just the video, and sometimes it’s an entire script (verbatim). Like in 2018, when affiliates of TV ownership group, Sinclair, read the exact same script on air on the same day.

We’ll stay away from the politics surrounding this particular viral video – but you get the idea. Imagine if this was your story, content, or visuals syndicating to thousands (sometimes millions) of TV-viewing households across the country. 

This type of rapid-fire content sharing among affiliates is a potential gold mine for hungry link builders. Accessing this network can amplify your coverage, and put your content in front of wider audiences throughout the country.

What Does Local News Syndication Look Like?

When you hear local news coverage, what do you think of? Live reporters at breaking news scenes, or a feature report on a new business opening? But within every regular broadcast and daily newspaper there exists “filler” content: new studies, reports, viral news, etc.

gif of a local news reporter getting kissed on air

Sometimes local news coverage consists of an anchor-read script in a newscast. Other times, local news coverage fuels a reporter’s nightly report. It can also consist of a newspaper citation, or an on-air mention by a radio DJ.

Virtually every time, the syndicating site republishes your content with an inbound link to the original source.

Local news and television headline screen shot

This type of content is so successful with local news because it caters towards the public’s general interest. We’ve talked about newsworthiness before — the eight values that journalists look for when finding stories to cover. Producing newsworthy content is more intuitive than you may realize. 

The content we help our clients create meets the thresholds for local newsworthiness. It’s timely, impactful, novel, and sometimes controversial.

As savvy news consumers, they can easily recognize news-friendly headlines. They’re the ones that you see almost daily on social media feeds and news websites. They often start with phrases like…

  • “New study reveals…”
  • “Latest trends in…”

The Amplifying Power of Local News Syndication

Local news functions, essentially, like a hub-and-spoke. Individual publications and stations gather and investigate stories in their local communities. They then publish the stories online, in print, or on-air before feeding that information to a central hub.

Syndication: Hub and spoke model

This model effectively distributes information across the country, generating fresh content for local audiences, without extra work. 

Let’s see what this looks like in real life: 

We earned an inbound media placement on The Fayetteville Observer‘s digital platform for one of our client’s campaigns. That same placement appeared, syndicated, on 52 other newspaper platforms within the same network.

newspaper syndication originating in the Fayetteville Observer

Not too shabby, right?

Let’s try another example. In a separate content marketing campaign, we earned a link to our client on Florida Today’s digital platform. That article syndicated to 169 other newspapers, because Florida Today is part of the USA Today network,

newspaper syndication originating in Florida Today

The short answer to this question is “yes.”

The long answer to this question is “yes, but syndicated links are less valuable than a unique linking placement.” In most instances, local news syndication is marked in the page source with a “rel=canonical.” This tag informs search engines that the syndication is a copy. It also helps your website reap the SEO benefits to the original source page’s Domain Authority. 

canonical tag on page source

If there’s no rel=canonical tag, local news syndication typically includes a direct link to the original article. Direct links signal to search engines that your site is the original source, even if the content is duplicated. In doing so they pass along the value and reputation of the site you’re mentioned on. The benefit of syndicating on local news websites is that, in most cases, the Domain Authorities are pretty high. 

While syndicated links carry less SEO value than a unique placement, 169 linking placements are a lot better than one.

How to Tap into Local News Syndication Networks

How do you access these networks and amplify your content’s coverage? While there is no one, fool-proof strategy, there are a few simple tricks to find your way in:

1. Build a list of media ownership groups

Any individual publication or outlet can be a source of syndication. Some content comes straight from the ownership group. Most of the time, however, syndicated content starts as one article on one website. 

If you understand ownership networks, you don’t need to pitch every media outlet within that network. Pick a handful of publications and pitch their general “news tips” email address. Then, wait and see if you generate any interest.

Syndicated radio programs are a great place to start. Identify the program you want to coverage in, then spend your energy crafting a pitch tailored to them. Starting at the source offers more bang for your buck. Once you earn coverage by the hub, you’ll see the coverage amplify as it syndicates.

2. Identify the *right* people to pitch

Another way to tap into these networks is to identify digital content producers at the corporate and local levels

Many media conglomerates have content editors who flag and format syndicated articles specifically for the web. These virtual gatekeepers, when properly pitched, can be excellent doorways to syndication.

Similarly, when you’re pitching individual publications, don’t just reach out to their general news tip emails. Spend a little time finding the web producers and web content editors and pitch them as well.

web team from the Indianapolis Star

3. Look for syndicated content and identify the source

Step 1: Look for content you want to emulate. Popular syndicated content tends to include headlines like “new study” or “new report.” Check out your own local TV station or newspaper’s website and look at what non-local stories are covered. 

Step 2: With a quick Google search, you can see if that content is syndicating by looking for identical headlines.

SERP for a news article

Syndicated articles will typically have the same author mentioned in the byline. Take note of the author and the hub publication and when you start your own outreach, start with them. 

CNN byline illustrating Ed Payne as the author for Gray news & CNN

Attributions and bylines like the one above appear on affiliate websites. “Ed Payne” from CNN didn’t specifically write the content for just that individual station. Instead, he wrote the article and assets, which then could be syndicated across every television owned by Gray News.

4. Create local, “newsworthy” content

But just because you can tap into the network doesn’t assure your content will syndicate. Local news has a hearty appetite for great content. Whether it’s about their community, or relevant to their industry at large, it needs to be newsworthy.

The type of local content that syndicates tends to have broad appeal. It resonates with the general news audience, regardless of which city or state they live in. We’ve found that original research, consumer surveys, evergreen content, and data analyses play well with local news media.

Now, you can’t always predict when syndication will happen. However, you can make syndication more likely. All you need to do is create content the media wants to cover and find the entry points to these networks.

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