Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In a Fantastic Turn of Events...

Today's NY Times has an excellent article about the recent developement of local, independent media outlets in various American cities.

As America’s newspapers shrink and shed staff, and broadcast news outlets sink in the ratings, a new kind of Web-based news operation has arisen in several cities, forcing the papers to follow the stories they uncover.

Here it is VoiceofSanDiego.org, offering a brand of serious, original reporting by professional journalists — the province of the traditional media, but at a much lower cost of doing business. Since it began in 2005, similar operations have cropped up in New Haven, the Twin Cities, Seattle, St. Louis and Chicago. More are on the way.

With the decline of print ad sales and the closing of newspapers across the country, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing organized opperations like this sprouting up. I think this is a great developement. Many of the web sites profiled have non-profit status, so they are able to apply for grants and public donations, which in theory will keep them slightly more free than news organizations who are tied to corporate sponsorship.

My friends and I were just talking a few weeks ago on our roof about what changes we'll see in journalism in the next few years. The common thread among all conversations like this that I've had is: look, blogs and online news is great, but they still need newspapers to give them their source material. That, right now, is undeniably correct. Blogs, for the most part, serve as watchdogs, not as primary sources of news.

One small, but I think significant, way that this might be changing, though, is that primary news can be gathered and distributed by anybody, as long as they have an audience. To illustrate my point, I'll use a somewhat obtuse, but I think relevant, example.

Last July there was an earthquake in LA, and it was first reported on Twitter, the micro-message social network whatever. The LA Times website was down, and it was 9 minutes before the AP issued the news on their wire.

Now, obviously, tweeting to a friend "my fucking house is collapsing," is not the same thing as publishing the Pentagon Papers, but there is something to be said for local residents reporting and distributing local news.

How this would play out in foreign affairs reporting is unclear to me. If there is an embassy bombing in country X, but the Chicago Trib hasn't sold an ad all week and can't send their own reporter, will there be a local reporter/blogger from country X who can provide a story (my fucking house is collapsing from an explosion!)? Maybe.

More rambling thoughts about this to come in the near future. Until then, I will close my eyes and imagine I work at one of these new online news orgs. and we are about to publish the NEW Pentagon Papers.

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