In the Era of Networked Local Journalism, Everyone Can Contribute

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dataThe dwindling number of professional local reporters doesn’t imply a corresponding loss of hyperlocal content, the way some have suggested. On the contrary, the world of hyperlocal content is exploding — the only problem is that a lot of it doesn’t fit the traditional journalistic definition of “news.” We’re entering an era of networked journalism, and local publishers of all kinds are now contributing to their community’s news across a variety of both traditional and social publishing channels.

Let’s start with the proliferation of high-quality, professional local news. Local news isn’t just reported by the local press. For example, compelling local stories appear in news services like The Atlantic CitiesColorlinesInvestigative News Network, and New Geography that are intended for their national readers — but may not reach the local readership where it has the most immediate impact. By necessity, news services need to cater and appeal to the broader national readership in order to achieve the traffic required for monetization. The hurdle is developing and maintaining the syndication channels that get investigative news reports in Cincinnati, Ohio to Cincinnati readers. I’m betting very few consumers recognize the networks named above, the reason is simply their brand is not distributed to local levels. Kevin Davis, CEO of Investigative News Network notes: “The new investigative news publishers, many of whom are nonprofit and in our network, need to be exposed to target and local readers across a variety of platforms. We work together with them to make sure their content is not siloed, but networked broadly across various channels that provide the consumer multiple opportunities to be informed. This is especially applicable for publishers reporting on diversity issues and underserved communities.”

John Triplett, Content Partnership Manager at Arizona Republic, believes local news will inevitably be reported in large part by its citizens: “At AZC Voices, we believe the community contributions from our local bloggers is the most efficient way to make local news relevant,” he told me. “These contributions will continue to grow as more local businesses get on board with the applying the principles of content marketing, and publish content related to their businesses and communities, hopefully without overtly spamming.”

There are a lot of hyperlocal news contributors out there. The traditional news media sets strict filters for contributors to maintain journalistic oversight. Their editor submission model provides greater journalistic integrity, of course, but adds editorial costs and can delay publication. On the networked journalism side, a big opportunity exists for local publishers and media networks to curate and aggregate everything happening in a locality. This is the journalism of inclusion. If local contributors are curated and authorized to post in real time, content distribution is more efficient. As readers learn to understand this format, local media starts to look more like a community bulletin board, with users expected to factor in the credibility of the posters.

Most journalists abhor the idea of this chaotic free-for-all model on a national level; witness all the hand wringing about the real-time reporting on major events via Twitter. However, at the local level this works because individual local contributors don’t have the impact of CNN, but they still have stakes in their community and the concomitant incentive to keep their noses clean to maintain reputability. The power of networked journalism is in its checks and balances while the social narrative is being spun.

It’s inevitable that local media will extend its role beyond traditional reporting to becoming the distribution hub for community news. In this new role, local media can facilitate the flow of unfiltered news from mayors, journalists and performing artists directly to the community to nurture the social narrative. It’s unfiltered, but like any blog network, editors can curate those who participate. Like Triplett, I think inclusion is the key to local media. Which begs the question, who needs to be included, who needs greater local media access?

1) City politicians and civic groups: Reporting on mayoral press conferences and city council meetings is all well and good, but local press should give anybody associated with civic politics and management a way to distribute and syndicate news ALL the time, not just report on official business. Most mayors and city council members use Twitter not only for official news but to informally share links and publicize events. Twitter feeds can be curated, aggregated and displayed. It’s this real-time thread that makes politics readily accessible to constituents.

2) Performing artists on tour: Indie filmmakers on theatrical run, indie bands on tour, and film and music festival participants rely on their host venues to publicize and market their events. It’s usually in the form of a dry listing on the local paper’s “Things to Do” page. However, these artists should be able to reach their intended audiences simply by having media access to each community where performances happen. Local media should act like local “hosts,” facilitating direct relationships between artists and their community. One way they can do this is to give artists in town blog and social media access to their readers.

3) Journalists, newscasters, college journalism students: Everybody associated with news reporting, from Andrew Sullivan to small market TV newscasters looking to move upmarket, now needs to develop their own brand. Local publishers and media networks have always been a first stepping stone for journalists; hired many college grads to local editor/reporter positions as it built up over the past few years. Local publishers can amplify the voices of aspiring journalists by developing programs with college journalism departments that could supplement local reporting.

Local media needs to provide more value to the “newsmakers” that impact their communities by giving them a voice. The three examples above are only just the tip of the iceberg of potential contributors to local news. Most news happens at a location, networked journalism simply makes sure that news is delivered to those who can best use or appreciate it based on locality.

Patrick Kitano is a founding principal of Brand into Media, a strategy group for social brand management solutions, and administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is reachable via Twitter (@pkitano) and email ([email protected]).