Hyper-local News In The Post-Newspaper Era

from the amateur-hour dept

Rather than simply wringing his hands about how the decline of the newspaper means that no one will report local news, Reason‘s Jesse Walker actually gives some thought to where local news coverage might come from in a post-newspaper world. He focuses on people and institutions that can provide hyper-local news: not just about a state or metropolitan area, but of a particular town or even a specific neighborhood. For example, most communities already have one or more local gadflies who regularly attend city council and school board meetings and are often the first to notice funny business by government officials. Traditionally, if a gadfly spotted something he thought the public should know about, he had to convince a reporter to cover his scoop. Now there’s no filter: the gadfly can post the story to his blog. That won’t necessarily mean that a lot of people will read his post, but it at least gives him the opportunity to be noticed by others online. Jesse notes that local activists, government insiders, and community organizations are also candidates to do much of the work that has traditionally been done by local reporters.

The striking thing about this list is how diverse it is. In the traditional, vertically-indicated news business, a single institution oversees the entire news “supply chain,” from the reporter attending the local city council meeting to the paper boy who delivers the finished newspaper to readers. The technological and economic constraints of newsprint meant that the whole process had to be done by full-time employees and carefully coordinated by a single, monolithic organization. But the Internet makes possible a much more decentralized model, in which lots of different people, most of them volunteers, participate in the process of gathering and filtering the news. Rather than a handful of professional reporters writing stories and an even smaller number of professional editors deciding which ones get printed, we’re moving toward a world that Clay Shirky calls publish, then filter: anyone can write any story they want, and the stories that get the most attention are determined after publication by decentralized, community-driven processes like Digg, del.icio.us, and the blogosphere.

Decentralized news-gathering processes can incorporate small contributions from a huge number of people who aren’t primarily in the news business. You don’t need to be a professional reporter to write a blog post every couple of weeks about your local city council meeting. Nor do you need to be a professional editor to mark your favorite items in Google Reader. Yet if millions of people each contribute small amounts of time to this kind of decentralized information-gathering, they can collectively do much of the work that used to be done by professional reporters and editors.

Unfortunately, this process is hard to explain to people who don’t have extensive experience with the Internet’s infrastructure for decentralized information-gathering. Decentralized processes are counter-intuitive. Having a single institution promise to cover “all the news that’s fit to print” seems more reliable than having a bunch of random bloggers cover the news in an uncoordinated fashion. The problem is that, in reality, newspapers are neither as comprehensive nor as reliable as they like to pretend. Just as a few dozen professionals at Britannica couldn’t produce an encyclopedia that was anywhere near as comprehensive as the amateur-driven Wikipedia, so a few thousand newspaper reporters can’t possibly to cover the news as thoroughly as millions of Internet-empowered individuals can. This isn’t to disparage the reporters and editors, who tend to be smart and dedicated. It’s just that they’re vastly outnumbered. As Jesse Walker points out, any news gathering strategy that doesn’t incorporate the contributions of amateurs is going to be left in the dust by those that do.

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Comments on “Hyper-local News In The Post-Newspaper Era”

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eclecticdave (profile) says:

Good Journos Always Welcome

There will always be a place in the blogosphere for people who can write good, informative and engaging articles.

Such people stand every chance of attracting a community which they can use to attract advertisers and sponsors. Alternatively, popular and respected reporters should have no trouble getting companies to pay them to write articles.

You might think that would spell the end of impartial reporting, with every reporter toeing the company line of whoever is paying them at that moment, but I suspect too much of that sort of behaviour would quickly drive away the community, which would act as a sort of self-correcting mechanism.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

All the news that is fit to print

I totally agree with this blog, with two concerns:
1. It is ingrained in our culture that reporters have a right to anonymous sources – we need the same thing for blogs, or it “won’t be the same”. Maybe we need a “reporter” (Mike?) to collate and edit newsworthy stuff behind the shield of anonymity – that brings up the second point:
2. Copyright, which I agree is massively abused (and with the money they give toward campaign funds, will continue that way until we clean up the campaign fund mess) will tend to prevent collations into a centralized (wikipedia-style) blog, I think. We need a mechanism (wikireports?) where if you add to the corpus, you give up your copyright.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: All the news that is fit to print

1) sadly, without some level of oversight and controls, anonymous sources can easily turn into “making crap up”. The true worth of a news / information source is the confidence you have in their material. The line between slant and lies is a very thin one.

2) Copyright isn’t an issue in the slightest here. News is news, report the news. There is nothing in copyright to stop the reporting of news. If companies or individuals publish news, it’s news. You can link to it (no matter how hard sites protest, if they don’t like it, then htaccess it), you can quote it, etc. Nobody has to be part of the corpus to make it work, the material just has to be accessible.

The other thing is that citizen reports are often wrong, biased, or just not informed. Wikipedia works in the long run, but often with short term misinformation and such. Citizen reporters are often like 5 blind guys describing an elephant – 4 gets legs, one gets the trunk, and everyone things they guy with the trunk is lying. Wikipedia is great for long term historical reference, but as an instant news source, it is sorely lacking the controls and systems to make it work.

You just have to look at CNN’s I-report to know why citizen news is often the least intelligent way to get information.

ChimpBush McHitlerBurton says:

Re: Re: All the news that is fit to print

What’s sad, Harold, is that there is no oversight, nor controls on even the “trusted” sources of “news”. If you trust what is fed to you by the mainstream media, then you fall victim to the same “making crap up” as someone who chooses a less organized source.

There will always be people who have an axe to grind, and who will use their power – however large or small – to get that bias across to their listeners. To believe that there is something magically correct about large news sources is to miss the reality that those organizations have their own axes, and they are big, and take a lot of grinding.


Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: All the news that is fit to print

I agree with you to a point, except that ‘trusted news sources’ don’t make stuff up (not normally, anyway). I don’t expect to look on the front page of USA Today and find a bunch of lies.

That being said, I might find news stories that are more in line with what the editor sees as his world view, or the stories might be written somewhat from a different perspective, but it is also why I don’t tend to get my news from a single source. My theory being, if I go to two trusted by different sources, I might have a better idea (sort of like flipping between Fox and CNN).

Where I have a problem is imagining the news written an Ann Coulter, by Rush Limbaugh, and by Al Franken. Between those three, I wouldn’t have a clue what is going on in the world, but I sure would be angry about it.

Can you imagine it?

Anonymous Coward says:

“…anyone can write any story they want, and the stories that get the most attention are determined after publication by decentralized, community-driven processes like Digg, del.icio.us, and the blogosphere.”

That’s going to wrankle some egos in the establishment… How are people going to be told how to think under the new system? Oh… snap!

Christopher Grotke (user link) says:

answers a question

This article answers the frequent question/threat of “but who will be sent to the overseas bureau?”

The answer is no one. The people who live there, people who travel there, and people who live nearby will tell everyone else what happens.

In other words – you are the foreign bureau for everyone in the world who doesn’t live where you live.

carl (user link) says:

Editorial Oversight & Exposure Platform

I completely agree with this article and note two things: 1) the news website I operate in Sedona, AZ has become a platform for the community. The ‘gadfly’ mentioned in the article doesn’t have to post his article on a blog no one will see. He can send it to a local news site like mine that is more than happy to print a well written article on a local topic; and 2) the role of the editor will remain strong. Citizen journalism needs editorial oversight.

Ana (user link) says:

Free local platform

I recently met a local activist who thought the local news paper was biased. I din’t ask which way. But, the important thing is that edited, journalistic newspapers also have a supposed bias.

LocalByUs doesn’t have a bias other than informative useful things posted at a particular location – a lat/long marker.


I will have to wait and see if citizens want to be involved and informed about what’s going on around them locally.

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