Hyperlocal news and how it may or may not save the world
Yesterday, Tech Crunch skewered the numbers in a presentation by Jeff Jarvis that suggested there’s a business to be made in a network of hyperlocal news sites, apps, and other digital initiatives. (See the presentation here.)
Today, Jarvis says something to the effect of, “Fair enough — I was just trying to stimulate discussion, but as digital media evolve it can happen anyway”.
To me, there are as many reasons to be excited about the future of journalism as there are to be depressed. Real-time feeds, social media, smartphone apps, participatory journalism — all fantastic. But it’s also easy to get overly optimistic about the role of digital in saving journalism, and it’s easy to overstate just how useful some of these new digital developments can be (Twitter is great, for example, but only if you finely filter it so the important information doesn’t get lost amid what your friend ate for breakfast and what your brother saw the cat do).
When it comes to too much zealous faith in the digital media landscape — and disdain for the print-based one — Jarvis, I think, is more guilty than most (as Slate‘s Ron Rosenbaum loves to point out). His model for a hyperlocal news network is an example of that.
Jarvis has many excellent ideas, but I think he places far too much faith in ‘citizen journalism’ (or what he has latterly rephrased as ‘networked journalism‘), which, it seems, would form a large part of the base for this hypothesised hyperlocal news network.
Okay, it’s true that a lot of ‘ordinary citizens’ are creating content online, but what is that content? I don’t know the figures, but I’d expect most of it consists of photos, profiles on social networks, videos, and inane ramblings on Twitter and personal blogs. How much of that actually amounts to useful stuff that might be considered news, or local coverage of a niche or area? Probably very little. And I suspect that’s largely because the people who are capable of creating such quality content and coverage are too busy doing other things — like working.
As far as I can tell, the people who are most committed to presenting something akin to citizen journalism — I mean, networked journalism — are the slightly unhinged idealogues who get an ego kick out of publishing unmediated crap on the internet. It helps that many of these same people don’t have full-time jobs to worry about.
There are many excellent blogs about news and the media that exist outside the mainstream (though there are also many excellent ones that exist within the mainstream). I love reading Glenn Greenwald, for example, and, in New Zealand, I’m even fond of David Farrar. But Greenwald is a journalist, and Farrar has made such an endeavour of his blog that it has become a money-making pursuit, despite it largely being a press release engine for a political party (which, I’d wager, is its main reason for being anyway).
While I know there are success stories, such as OhMyNews (mind you, have you ever read it? I haven’t), there is also a lot of stuff I’ll happily ignore forever in favour of journalism that has been paid for (by news organisations), proofread, fact-checked, edited, and selected.
I know Jarvis’ model attempts to bring participatory journalism under that umbrella, but it does seem to me a little optimistic — and not just in the numbers.
Hyperlocal is one way forward, but it’s going to need more than a loose network of under-read blogs to succeed. So what is the answer? I don’t know yet. But nor does anyone else. At least we can thank Jarvis for trying.
Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: .