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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Local News Making a Comeback?

So says Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times. He writes that 2007 will be the year for small, local newspapers.

Westneat bases his observations on his own experience covering Auburn, WA for a small daily, the Valley Daily News, which is now going out of business.

That kind of small-town newspapering is considered boring today. Unhip. Supposedly we're all too globalized or tuned into Web video clips to want such provincial news.

My own view is the opposite. I think intensely local, professionally gathered news is due for a comeback. It's the one thing you can't get anywhere else. The story of the death of the Valley Daily News is that it blew it when it combined with its partner, the Bellevue Journal-American, into one amorphous, suburban blob.

I hope that this is true, but I'm not holding my breath. I don't see anyone trying to start a Winooski newspaper, to replace the one that I folded a year and a half ago (when I was the volunteer editor/publisher of the Winooski Eagle).

I do, however, see more and more people signing up for the Front Porch Forum service. I just recommended it to someone today. It's not a newspaper, but it's a great way to share  local information. For example, yesterday my forum included an item from the Winooski City Engineer, explaining the water leak that's developed on my street. I don't know how else the city would have communicated that to me, other than sending out an email. The Free Press wouldn't have covered it in the same way.

Of course, FPF in no way replaces good investigative journalism, but at least it helps neighbors communicate. I don't know why the city hasn't come up with a service like this on its own. It seems like a no-brainer.

January 4, 2007 at 01:49 PM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink


Amen Cathy. I think the local - very local - focus is where it's at in the coming year too. Community newspapers provide one angle on that, blogs etc. another, and, Front Porch Forum another. It's all about folks engaging with the people, institutions and challenges around them vs. spending hours a day getting filled up with the mostly inane drivel pumped out by Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and, the news-as-entertainment complex.

We're finding that Front Porch Forum is filling up with active people who are engaged in their community. If the mainstream media tends to focus on bad news and controversies, Front Porch Forum members tend to write about hope, progress and the stuff of everyday life. More at http://frontporchforum.com/blog

Posted by: Michael Wood-Lewis | Jan 4, 2007 2:42:03 PM

If the mainstream media tends to focus on bad news and controversies, Front Porch Forum members tend to write about hope, progress and the stuff of everyday life.

Hmmm. It's not that I don't appreciate the hope and progress stuff--I do--but as a reporter, I also appreciate how crucial it is to report "the bad news," i.e. stories that cast a critical eye on people and institutions.

I don't enjoy writing these stories, but sometimes I feel like, if a reporter doesn't ask the tough questions, they don't get asked. Government and businesses often succeed in their missions, but they also routinely fail people in remarkable ways, and we need to hear about that, too.

Just putting in my plug for good old fashioned journalism.

I wish that, in addition to having FPF in Winooski, we also had a dedicated, talented, smart and uncompromising citizen reporter/blogger/whatever, who would go to all the meetings, get to know all the key players, and tell me what's REALLY going on in the city, rather than just telling me what the city officials want me to hear. No offense to the capable officials in Winooski, but let's face it, like city officials everywhere, they have no interest in broadcasting anything unflattering about their own performance.

I would pay someone a small sum to report my hyperlocal news, and I'm sure other people would pitch in, too. But doing it right is really a full-time job, and apparently there's just no one who wants to/is able to do it.

Posted by: cresmer | Jan 4, 2007 3:09:16 PM

Cathy... I concur! I was pointing out a difference between tried and true journalism and this new experiment playing out through Front Porch Forum. That is, we need professional journalist doing their jobs (and citizen journalist supplementing) and always will. Front Porch Forum doesn't really go there... it's a different beast. The point I failed to make clearly is that Front Porch Forum and a town newspaper compliment one another more than they compete.

And, speaking of "hyper-local" citizen journalism, check out the latest development with BackFence.com... downsizing.

Posted by: Michael Wood-Lewis | Jan 5, 2007 8:59:16 PM

MediaVidea has a related article - where is the money in local news sites?

Posted by: pramit | Jan 6, 2007 5:01:13 AM

For a good example of the mix of professional and citizen journalism, check out WestportNow.com, the 24/7 news and information source for Westport, Conn.

Now almost four years old, WestportNow has become the No. 1 source for news about this community on Connecticut's "Gold Coast."

Gordon Joseloff

Posted by: Gordon Joseloff | Jan 11, 2007 5:34:03 PM

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