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Can blogs cover local news?

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| Dan Gillmor's new site--comment registration ?

May 13, 2005

Can blogs cover local news?

Stephen Baker

A thoughtful post from Tim Porter on the future of local newspapers in the age of blogs. The point as I see it isn't that blogs overthrow newspapers, but that papers increasingly lack the economic (and staffing) resources to do their job--and they lack the flexibility to follow a mobile population. Porter says: "Modern communities are water, spilling across space and time. Newspapers are rock, hardened and stuck in one spot. In the war of water and rock, liquid wins every time."

The most pressing question isn't whether blogs pose a threat to traditional journalism. It's whether citizen journalism can provide the information societies need.

The trouble is that there's lots of very boring news that few people want to pay for--but is in society's interest to know (or at least have available). I used to nod off during planning board meetings in places like Weston, Vermont, and El Paso, Texas. But I'd rouse myself to write stories that put the proceedings in the public eye. If newspapers can no longer afford to cover that type of news, will blogs?

10:45 AM

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? Can blogs cover local news? from Don Singleton

I don't know about other cities, but BatesLine, Tulsa Topics, and HFFZ blogs, along with Tulsa Beacon, Tulsa Now, Tulsa Today, Tulsa Now Forums do a pretty good job, especially since the Tulsa World does not like criticism. [Read More]

Tracked on May 13, 2005 02:46 PM

Repeat after me: Blogs are not a cheap(er) labor replacement for aging news organizations/models.

Bloggers tend to operate on some sort of social network of information, commentary, and points/counter-points. The information has to be gathered/stored in some place initially for the Blogosphere to take over its usual spot to proliferate that information.

In local news, who really has the time, desire, or resources to be some beat writer? There is a reason that local news is being left behind in radio, print, and television media. If I remember correctly, the LA news channels that did best during Sweeps were the stations broadcasting cop chases & shootings, not broadcasting actual news.

Posted by: Gaijin at May 13, 2005 12:23 PM

It all, as usual, depends. Even down here in Russia, where some would read news blogs, and some would just reject anything posted there. Perhaps, the issue is whether the people would post news. Believing new media will take time, not now.

Posted by: Henry Wylde at May 13, 2005 01:13 PM

Last year I was at an event at a local theme park and there was no press coverage. I took some pictures and wrote up a 'story' for my blog:

One of the local papers in my market linked to the story.

Posted by: Josh Hallett at May 13, 2005 01:14 PM

Gaijin, I will repeat after you all you want that blogs won't bail out local news organizations. My point is not "what will save newspapers," but rather, "how are we going to get important but boring news?"

Posted by: steve baker at May 13, 2005 01:41 PM

I can see the point for the article, but the point of the matter is "important but boring" news is still boring. If it wasn't boring--which translates into poor readership, ratings, or most other kinds of metrics--the Media would be covering it.

Maybe my mind isn't approaching it from the right angle, what qualifies as "important, but boring" news?

Posted by: Gaijin at May 13, 2005 04:26 PM

Writing and even reading about zoning laws, changes to the school board, what's happening at a tech standards meeting, changes in tax laws, or the minutae in changes in the climate because of global warming can often be boring.

But as you follow it over time, you begin to understand what it adds up to. And covering it or reading about it over time means you can figure out why someone is making a change to a zoning law, who is going to profit, or why a certain track of land is getting picked for the new 3,000 child high school as opposed to another track of land. But to put all those pieces togeher, you need to go to every zoning meeting.

Posted by: Heather Green at May 13, 2005 04:52 PM

Hyperlocal news isn't cost effective to print because the readership is, well, hyperlocal. If you have anywhere from 20 to over 100 neighborhood associations in your city, the dailies and broadcast media just can't cover it all. But if you have a "city neighborhood blog", with the (already existing) neighborhood association secretaries writing up their biweekly minutes, you'll have people in those neighborhoods checking it out.

Another type of story might be of interest to a larger community, but missed by the media. I attended the annual meeting for a local county political party recently. The *only* coverage of the meeting content was my blog post. Well over 600 people were in attendence, but neither daily and no broadcast outlet covered it. Result? My readership on that blog doubled literally overnight.

Hyperlocal news,'s all related to the Long Tail phenomenon, and really does mark a shift in the nature of news and information provisioning. Nick Denton to the contrary, calling this "just Internet publishing" is like calling the Gutenberg bible "just paper publishing".

So yes, blogs will cover at least some of that kind of story, Stephen. We already are, and the number will increase. I expect to see sites like incresing their presence in the public journalism realm, and more hyperlocal models developed around resources of this kind.

Posted by: Greg Burton at May 13, 2005 06:49 PM

Can blogs cover local news? Well as a blogger I'd have to point out the one weakness in the blogging news - I have no editor.

Say for instance I were to report on my mother's crash with an ambulance.. would I be unbiased.. probably not.

As a blogger I really don't have to uphold a code of journalism ethics...

So while I think blogs do way more than just supplement the news, its also clear that a blogger's facts may not be verifiable and so forth.

Lets put it this way - what a scarey world if we all came to rely on the blogosphere to determine the truth. Think about that one. With no censorship and lack of editorial and no idea of ethical conduct, all information being equally weighted - how would you even know a true fact from a wrong or biased one?

Big money would then pay bloggers more to deliver you the news via blog - naturally. Its a scarey thought. No I think there's a place for both the news, and also blogs to keep them honest.

Posted by: nortypig at May 13, 2005 08:17 PM

While the success of blogs in covering local news may be debatable, the role of a blog as a news digest for a certain niche is not. Since modern lifestyle means that we all have less and less time to linger over some daily newspaper, people will depend more on a trusted blog that keeps them posted on what they really need to know in a certain area.

Email newsletters (before they were made obsolete by SPAM) never quite managed to do this.

Posted by: Chris at May 14, 2005 11:16 AM

When I was a kid living in the San Fernando Valley, there was a Valley-wide newspaper called The Green Sheet. My Boy Scout troop's publicist (a volunteer committee position) submitted articles about summer camps and courts of honor, along with really bad black-and-white photos. The Green Sheet ran them all as they were received...not just from us, but from any civic or community organization. We did the same when I worked for an advertising-driven weekly newspaper in the mid-70's. If newspapers do this already, why can't online citizen journalism represent just a new channel? I'm not sure about blogs because they're too dispersed, but something like Northwest Voice in Bakersfield, CA, makes perfect sense to me.

Posted by: Shel Holtz at May 15, 2005 05:27 PM

I think the question isn't, "Can blogs cover local news" but rather, can interested people report and comment on local happenings with whatever tools they have at their disposal? Of course, citizens can do this, and have for years. But now they have a good method of sharing what they learn with others that scales (vs. - or better yet, in addition to - a letter to the editor, rants at the local bar/coffee house, voting, etc.). If they do it well, they will become a resource to others. If they do it poorly, they won't. Now, the danger is they could do it quite well, but in a highly biased or manipulative fashion. That is when it becomes clear that multiple voices are better than one.

And that holds true for traditional newspapers as well. The local newspaper in my hometown is pathetic in its error-ridden coverage. Irate citizens can, and do, write letters to the editor. But how much better to take matters into their own hands and report on what they see and hear.

One "voice" alone is never enough, as there is no true objectivity. Many voices, some of whom achieve a higher credibility and influence based on readers (votes) is more democratic and valuable.

Blogs happen to be the emerging tool de jour for this type of citizen reporting. Other tools will follow. So, let's keep the focus on people - individuals and groups - and not the tool.

Posted by: Elizabeth Albrycht at May 16, 2005 04:50 AM

I have had repeated conversations with our local Gannett paper's editors and publisher over the years to suggest that they scrap their AP wire subscription and reinvest the saved money in hiring young, fledgling journos to cover municipal news like a blanket. I (and most people I've spoken with) don't read the Gannett paper to get world and national news. We read it to get local news, so why they continue to believe they should compete with the nearby Philadelphia Inquirer or even the NY Times, to cover the Pope or Afghanistan in 200 words or less, is beyond me.

I do think that responsible bloggers could become a real voice in municipal government coverage, and maybe even the fact that many bloggers have a point of view could make public officials more accountable than if they were covered (200 words or 4 column inches -- or less) in the mainstream press.

Posted by: Steve Lubetkin at May 16, 2005 06:50 AM

I was just researching local news moving towards digital mediums in radio and print, and I came across this post.

In my town, a former CBS correspondent runs a local news blog that recieves thousands of hits/day, and is updated more than once an hour with well written local news articles.

It is being read more htan our local newspapers, and only requires the work of a retiree who keeps up with local goings-on and occasional picture and article submissions from townspeople.

Check it out:

Posted by: Brian Jordan at May 27, 2005 10:24 AM

Thanks, sounds really interesting. Will check it out.

Posted by: Heather Green at May 27, 2005 10:32 AM

Yes, blogs can cover local news. They can as long as the local press is incompetent, arrogant and autistic.

But be carefull: a blog is only a technical means to make concatenated web-pages. Before blog scripts web-pages were handmade - and the good ones still are.

Blogism will lead to hundreds of thousands of web-sites filled with noise. Nobody wants to read that.

Good journalism still is brain work and is handmade web-pages.

Aribert Deckers

Posted by: Aribert Deckers at August 30, 2005 08:47 PM

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