An article on CNN.com earlier today focused on the evolution of local news, and the emergence of Hyper-Local online publications that target a specific city, region or neighborhood:
Since 2004, when trouble in the news industry started to show, at least 800 community news Web sites have popped up, according to Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. The sites often do a better job at covering community news than large newspapers did, even before the papers started to collapse, she said.
Jane McDonnell, executive director of the Online News Association, said the hyperlocal movement places emphasis on community news that’s written by volunteers who usually are entrenched in their neighborhoods.
I’m not so sure about volunteer journalists … but I understand why. Journalists cost money, and I’m sure most of these publications don’t have a way to pay for them. Most are run by journalists who have been let go in this great media purge that seems to have taken place … and which has affected me a great deal. But the concept is, I think, a good one.
I’ve been saying for some time that broadcasters need to focus more on their local communities. In this era of great change in the media world, there are so many choices for national and international news, seemingly at the expense of local coverage. Local news is expensive to produce, and national news comes at the flip of a switch, for the most part. But if a reader/listener/viewer can get the national news or gossip or sports from so many different sources, what is the incentive for them to come to your site/station? Some will find the broad brushstrokes to be enough … and will be content with generic playlists and remote announcers voice tracking their Thursday show on Monday. But the active listener or reader, and one that’s likely to patronize a local business, is someone who wants to know what is going on in their local community. They want to know about local news, local politics, local issues, and local events.
The hyper-local targeted site can do that very effectively, it would seem. But the catch comes in the credibility.
Any publication lives and dies on its reputation. While there is no guarantee that ANYTHING you read on the Interwebs will be accurate, if you’re going to try to make money at online publishing, you need to have a good reputation for accuracy. Volunteer journalists with no training or understanding of sourcing and research might not be the best route to a well-respected publication. When you’re attached to CNN or a local broadcaster or newspaper, that can come with some built-in juice. But to just stand up a “paper” online and expect your readers to give you instant cred might be a little much to expect. Trust takes time to establish, and very little to destroy. You don’t get very many bites at that apple before your audience has moved on to something else.
I know of at least one Jacksonville local news site that is set to launch this weekend. I know because I’ve been asked to contribute, and I’m happy to do so. I’ve had a little journalism training … and I’ll be writing more in a column format than hard news anyway. But I’ve been toying with the idea of looking into a couple of online ventures of my own, along with doing something a bit more established. The only thing that is certain is that the media environment is rapidly changing, and as television shifts to all digital, radio moves to a digital transmission option, and what appears on the remaining broadsheets is all set up on and transmitted by computers … there are a lot of ones and zeros screaming through the air, across fiber optic lines and twisted pair phone lines and coaxial cables. The appliances that decode all those ones and zeros will find a way to merge, and the way people get their information will drastically change.
I love my broadsheet, but honestly, right now I just can’t justify the expense. Maybe when there’s some income again I’ll have them start dropping it in my driveway again. I like my television, and my radio, though I’m not the power listener I once was. But I’m also 50, and there’s a generation or two behind me who haven’t grown up in a house where three papers were delivered to the front porch every day (two in the morning, one in the afternoon, in a small town in Indiana). They’re used to three hundred information sources being delivered to their laptops when ever they want to click on them. Those are the future consumers of news, and one way or the other, the Internet is going to be a major delivery vehicle. And as larger news organizations make choices about local news … maybe the hyper-local news site will be one of those places that starts to gain some traction.