Localism is now attracting considerable attention in media business strategy. Stephen Gray of the Newspaper Next project observes:
It’s becoming a truism these days that “local” is the core value proposition for newspapers.
The reasoning goes like this: With tons of national and international news and other non-local content available free online, “local” is the one thing a local newspaper can do better than anyone else.
Gray emphasizes compiling a wide variety of local information:
How often do you wish you knew where to buy something locally? What contractor, plumber, doctor, lawyer or mechanic you could trust? What you or your family could do on the weekend for fun? How to help with your daughter’s algebra assignment? What’s the best pizza joint, Thai restaurant, dry cleaner, etc.? Where the cool parties are? (Yes, much of this is age-dependent.) What’s a good elder care or child care solution? Whether there’s a traffic jam right now on the expressway home?
While much valuable information has a local aspect, local information isn’t a good concept for bounding a media business. Local traffic data, like local geographic data that Mapquest and Google Maps offer nationally, is associated with objective technical problems of acquisition, database organization, and query services. “Where the cool parties are?”, in contrast, is information inextricably intertwined with social relations of the sort that friending functions support in social networking sites. In another business direction, identifying a trustworthy service supplier is a reputation management problem of the type that Ebay and Amazon rating systems address. The way and extent to which local information is embedded in local personal relationships matters a great deal for a media business.
Traditional local newspapers’ comparative advantage is in making news. Making news means defining what’s publicly important. Putting you, your friends, schoolmates, workmates, and neighbors into the newspaper makes the newspaper more interesting to you.
Citizen journalism is not the same as hyperlocal news reporting. Orato bills itself as “True Stories from REAL People: Featuring FIRST PERSON, Citizen Journalism from Around the World.” In a post entitled “The Scoop on Citizen Journalism,” Paul Sullivan in Orato’s editor’s blog observes:
Today, as the Pickton trial begins, Orato is coming off its highest traffic week ever. Most of it, we’re sure, comes from recent media play over our decision to give ex-sex trade workers Trisha Baptie and Pauline VanKoll an opportunity to report on the Pickton trial [the trial of a man accused of killing 26 Vancouver women, most associated with sex-for-money transactions with a large customer set]. I guess you could say we’ve made a great leap forward, but after a 15-second self-applied pat on the back, it’s clear to me, and no doubt, to the small army of citizen journalists who regularly visit and contribute to this site, that we’ve got a long way to go.
This is the sort of story and reporting that would be extremely valuable to traditional national news organizations. Measured with respect to journalistic ideals, neophyte journalists can totally outperforming highly experienced, resource-rich, professional journalists. Among Louisiana folk storytellers, “true stories” is a term of art in the art in which they excel.
Yourhub is an excellent example of innovative, hyperlocal news reporting. In a recent top story, Ann Himel reports:
Cabin fever hits in less than 12 hours for me, but I waited it out without maiming any of my family members in order to venture into the depths of snow today, Thursday, December 21, 2006.
Dateline, Littleton, CO: Ann Himel and her two companions, daughter Catherine and faithful Labrador Rocky, ventured outside in (not quite) the worst blizzard on record to clear a path to freedom. Where will they go?
The best stories from Yourhub are published each week in a printed newspaper delivered to subscribers of the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. This is like the idea of a placeblog, or neighborhood networking, married to an important physical news reporting form and distribution system. It’s news provided on real (dead) wood that has endured many seasons of weather.
Hyperlocal news reporting faces some significant challenges. Only a small share of citizens are likely to be interested in writing news stories, although a larger share would be interested in reading them. Professional journalists need to figure out how to expand efficiently the personal scope of their coverage and how to encourage and work with citizen journalists. Generating sufficient volume of hyperlocal news stories and distributing them to interested persons are significant business challenges. In addition, policies for hyperlocal news reporting need to be discussed and considered rationally. These are challenges that traditional local media are best positioned to meet.
Business models and policies for hyperlocal news reporting are just starting to be explored. Localism is a potent issue in U.S. national communications regulation. With new communication technologies, localism in communication is likely to become more important to many more persons and local organizations.