I actually gave up on regularly reading newspapers even before the web, and so I might have predicted the end of industrial age newspapers a long time ago. But, in spite of that, now that it’s actually happening–and happening locally with the Seattle PI, I can’t say that I ever prepared to live in a city where one might not be able to find a couple different local papers offering serious coverage of the big stories.
So, what does this have to do with the Central District? Well, in some sense, the local newspapers haven’t really had a ton of attention on local issues in our neighborhoods. And, that’s part of the reason why the newspapers are dying out–the newspapers aren’t primarily in the news business, they are in the business of delivering us (the public) to their audience: the advertisers. And, being treated like a product by the papers is not a priority for most of us.
But, on the other hand, the PI and Seattle Times have both employed journalists who have provided some serious coverage of issues that effect us. And, however one might complain about newspapers, we’ve got to worry about, e.g., what shenanigans go down at city hall if there’s not a couple different journalists digging into those stories and bringing them to the public.
Fortunately, we have Central District News and the other neighborhood blogs / site around Seattle. I don’t know that these websites can altogether replace what we might get from the PI, but they are part of it–and, in some very local ways, we already are getting a lot better information out of them.
Mike Davidson, who works at Newsvine (a news company with offices in the PI building) wrote some of his thoughts and observations in Last Rites. And, that made me want to post something here to CDN. I don’t have any answers (though Mike has some ideas–which are worth looking into).
What do you think? Definitely curious to hear Scott’s and CD Guys’ and other folks from Neighborlogs thoughts as well.
Even though we’re building a product that we believe will be a critical component to the future of news, I would not suggest that what we do here will ever be a replacement for a regional daily newspaper.
We’ve always considered neighborhood blogging to be about about a different slice of news that didn’t previously get reported. Only people within a mile of 23rd & Union care about what might be built there. The Seattle PI would never have wanted to cover that any any depth because it’s not of interest to the vast majority of their readers. Some lucky neighborhoods have had some of this handled by small print publications, but only on an infrequent schedule of publication and with a cost structure that no longer works.
First, there’s a lot of reporting that would still happen here and at other blogs if we didn’t have any daily papers:
– Politics, which is a naturally passionate topic for people, and one that is better told without the forcing a fake neutral point of view
– Crime and other emergent events, because they directly impact peoples lives and are actually very easy, if sometimes tiresome, to write about.
– Community events and organizations, because they usually have members who are invested in getting the word out about them, and the internet makes that easy.
Second, there’s the content that newspapers should just forget about. National columnists and AP feeds should be jettisoned ASAP. People who want that can go straight to the source at the NYTimes or whoever else did the original reporting. Including it in a local paper just wastes space.
But there’s a whole other set of reporting that would suffer without the resources that newspapers have. It’s basically anything that takes more than a day to assemble. Things like big investigative pieces, or long court trials that require someone to sit in a courtroom for weeks on end. Advertising-driven websites won’t ever be able to properly monetize a single story or a small series of them to be able to fund someone to do that kind of work. And the need for rapid churn of content on the web will usually mean that a website’s direct resources will end up being devoted stories that are easier to produce.
I’m hoping that there is some opportunity for that kind of work to continue through the benevolence of readers and/or charitable funds. For example, I’ve been a huge fan of Claudia Rowe’s reporting on the gang issue around here, and have wondered whether individual readers value that kind of work enough to directly support it through some sort of contribution system.
But I do think there’s an opportunity for nimble organizations to adapt to the evolving world of news. They come equipped with the two main pieces that make it all possible: people who can write great content, and people who can sell that content to advertisers. Those core pieces are very valuable, and could be used as a profitable glue for a loosley tied network of smaller sites. Everything else in a news organization is overhead and should be considered the first to go when hard times hit.
For example, we’re currently looking for a salesperson who could help market our large surplus of advertising inventory on our neighborhood blog network. But it’s been a hard position to fill because it’s not yet at a scale that will support a full-time position. An existing organization with an experienced sales staff could be making money off of hundreds of websites around Seattle if they became the broker for those site’s advertising inventory.
On the content side, there’s similar opportunity for coordination. A lot of reporting is time-consuming and repetitive. Things like picking up police reports and combing through court filings are all things that could be provided as a centralized resource for members of a large regional network.
The trick with that is that existing organizations need to get over their pride. Cooperation and coordination is good, and ignoring the stuff that happens outside of their offices is only going to increase the number of challenges they face.
We definitely live in exciting times…
David Simon the former journalist and creator of the hbo show The Wire wrote a good piece on what the loss of journalism means in terms of policing the police, among other things.
You can find it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02
Andrew pointed this out on the Miller blog:
And I went to the site and watched a pretty good podcast of a panel on the future of journalism titled ‘Seattle as a No Newspaper Town?’:
The sound quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s pretty interesting,
that in the past many years we have come to a point of confusing journalism, ‘news’ and editorializing. Especially when we know that some persons of influence say what they are paid to say, excusing it with ‘I’m just doing entertainment’. That’s dangerous because we risk creating self fulfilling ignorance.
Do I think that newpapers are necessary? Not if everyone has access to the web. Kindles are an option but the subscription costs more than the paper version.
I also would like some aggregators for columnists that I like and national news instead of going to tons of sites. Guess I don’t mind if a P-I web site has the AP stories.
I enjoy both the traditional news sites and neighborhood/niche blogs for different reasons.
Like Scott said, the blogs are fantastic for filling in those community and slice-of-life stories that even the best-staffed city newspaper would never write. What is of interest to a group of folks in one neighborhood may not matter at all to someone out in the suburbs – or even in the next neighborhood.
They are also great for breaking news. You look outside your window and seven cops are chasing a naked guy down the street, well, you’ve got yourself one heck of a story. Good on you.
Blogs are about community and you can definitely hear that in the posts. With regular posts, we get to know the bloggers – how many kids they have, what beer they drink, whether they are morning or night people, what area of the neighborhood they live in, where they go on vacation. And that is a double-edged sword.
When you inject yourself into a post (“I went down to the crime scene and talked with so-and-so” or “Billy Bob stopped me on the street the other day to tell me that his business was opening on blah, blah”), you become part of the story.
Sometimes I find that charming, especially when it is a personal post about something funny or scary or sad or whatever. It reminds me a lot of the local paper in my hometown, only bloggers have much, much better grammar – and more interesting things to write about.
Sometime I find that annoying, especially when I just want the facts of the story and someone is rambling on about himself.
Also when I come to one of the neighborhood blogs, I take what is published there with a grain of salt. Why? Because I don’t know the person who posted the information. Who is this person? What is his background? What are his motivations? And, did someone else vet or edit the information before it was posted? Why did he post this story? To be heard? To be clever? To get people to see things his way? Does he have one source – or many sources (ie, points of view)? And most importantly….is it true??
I also worry about liability and blogs. The First Amendment and the sunshine laws and open records are all good things but that doesn’t mean that Bob will sue you for writing about his arrest – even if you took the information word-for-word off the police blotter. And that rambling firestorm you wrote about a proposed development? The developer is going to sue you because all of a sudden the city planning department is taking a closer look.
Now both suits will be eventually tossed out – but not until after you’ve had to defend yourself. That’s why newspaper attorneys exist. They rattle their swords a little and these things (including subpeonas from police, etc) go away. Can the neighborhood blogs weather even one lawsuit?
I’ve felt they were head and shoulders above the big two’s City Hall coverage.