Local lives

NowPublic’s Leonard Brody’s a smart guy but I think he’s full of gas when he says that local doesn’t matter. He told Liz Gannes at GigaOm:

“I not a believer in local anymore,” said Brody. “I used to think that hyperlocal was what mattered to people, but for 35 and under especially, the concept of local is very different. Like Facebook publishing the news feed… it’s changed from hyperlocal to hyperpersonal.” Weather, traffic, and crime are important, but they’re commodities, he said, adding local politics might be the exception, but nobody cares about them anymore.

I agree with Rafat Ali’s reaction to that: “What he really means: local’s hard as hell.”

Amen. But important as hell. Let’s look at the front page of NowPublic right now. Here’s a story about a Caracas metro crash. Now I’m very sorry for the victims of this tragedy, but it doesn’t touch my life. It’s not local to me. It touches lives in Caracas. It’s local to them. Here’s a story about a fire in the Jersey pinelands. I’m in Jersey but that’s not local enough for me. But to the folks who can smell the smoke, it matters. It’s local. The UK floods story is international — at least on this end of the world — but it’s also a different story locally (see what the BBC did with maps in networked geojournalism).

Local is damned hard because no one yet — apart from newspaper companies — has managed to get a critical mass of local content and no one — including me — knows yet how to create an alternative that can gather and share that much and more on new economics. But I have no doubt — no doubt — that there will always be a market for local news. And I have no doubt, too, tnew tools and means and people — like those behind NowPublic — can be used effectively to help gather it. Still, it’s almost impossible for a metro paper — let alone an international citj service — to say it is local because the odds that it will have what is local to you are next to nil still. That’s what makes local so hard.

Not every story is local. And lots of local angles are insipid. But to say that young people don’t care about local is making the mistake the AP made with asap (see below). Beware.

I care about local and so do most people I know, regardless of age. We care about our local taxes, restaurants, crimes, construction, economy, services, communities, neighborhoods, and gossip, too. I would take in more local reporting — more broadly definied — if it existed. I say we need more local reporting, not less, and it needs to get more local. I would like to see how the NowPublic infrastructure could be outsourced to help incumbent local news companies and new local news companies do that. I think that would be a more productive path for discussion than just dismissing local as the province of provincial old farts like me. And then we need to organize it and that’s why I’m excited by Outside.In (to which — full disclosure — I am an adviser).

The great opportunity in local is that no one has solved it yet.

  • The question is what does ‘local’ mean? Much of what traditional media has defined as local is based on geographical restrictions. The truth is that for a younger demographic ‘local’ really translates to ‘personal’..meaning, sure, traffic and weather matter to me because they are in my world, however, I am more interested in attaching to news that is pertinent to things that are about who I am, not just where I live.

    In some cases, the traditional ‘local’ news does cover that, however, the term no longer captures the intentions and interests of younger news readers.

    I am not saying ‘local’ isn’t important…I am saying the concept of ‘local’ needs to be broadened to something outside of geography.

    I don’t have the stats in front of me, however, my guess would be that the majority of 18-35 year olds check their Facebook newsfeeds many more times a day than they do any other local news source. Just a strong hunch.

  • and…I forgot…you are right…I usually am full of gas!!!

  • Leonard,
    I still think you’re being nonsequitorial — and passing up business while you’re at it.
    Yes, news can be more personal: that’s the nichefication of news and media.
    But local still matters. And local is hard. And I believe local is an opportunity for NowPublic.
    And as I said in the post below, I do not believe that the nature of society and interest change radically just because you’re below 35.

  • I had this same debate with a lecturer of mine at university. My thinking is that for local news to be successful it has to be specifically local. By that, I mean stories that are unique to the area — rather than ones that are just too minor to make it anywhere near the national news.

    Sometimes our local TV news is just full of stories about roads or school fetes. It’s not interesting, even if it is on your doorstep.

    But of course, local news will never be dead. Indeed, all news is local news… providing you live in the right place! ;-)

  • News consumption historically has always been more about habits than news. Newspapers are produced every 24 hours irrespective of how many newsworthy events occur. The problem with hyperlocal news is that there is very little of it. Who is going to check in to a hyperlocal news site every day?

  • Speaking as someone who works at a largely local news outlet…

    The best people for doing local news are…locals. We carry a percentage of national and international, like all good news organs, but we place a heavy emphasis on local, and when there’s a shortage of hot local news, we often do more introspective pieces or features on local activities that are available. Of course, it helps to be located in a region rich in potential outdoor activities.

    A nearby rival news organ has a reputation for going ‘special section crazy’…they’ve helped keep their paper in the black this way, but most of their special sections focus on major local happenings or features in the region – and it’s a strategy that has, for the most part, paid off until recently. It bought them time, and now that their sales are beginning to founder again, like most others, they’ve had the opportnity to expand their online presence.

    They have, however, over-reached their local demographic, so once they hit saturation it was inevitable that their subscriptions and sales would experience decline again. For our own part, at the paper where I work, we’re just now developing our online presence and keeping our tangible product small, our focus largely local, and keeping our focus on community and the immediate region.

    This is still not going to save us if the current trends away from printed media continue…but after flash and gif animation come streaming video, and the merging of media continues to take place as papers evolve to try to stay alive by taking their act online. I’m already doing storyboarding and keyframing of online ad animations, and at home I’ve installed Adobe Premiere and begun reading the ‘bible’ book on it…for those forthcoming days of video work…

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  • I have an evolving opinion when it comes to the concept of hyperlocal news services.

    What I’m starting to conclude is that local, in and of itself, to use a phrase of yours Jeff, is just a niche of niches. An important, hard to serve, niche of niches.

    Over time I have observed the more focussed the blog in Philadelphia on a subject matter and local community of interest – the more passion can be ascribed to it – whether it be Philly Food or the Philadelphia Phillies. Philly Liberal Politics, or the Philly Reading Terminal Market. Philly Web Developers or Philly Alt Rock Concerts.

    We have a murder wave in our city and it is *not* registering in the blogosphere the way you would imagine.

    I’m not saying that bloggers and independents don’t care about communities of geography – about their city – it’s that in order to gain traction – it needs a community of interest bent – add a liberal or conservative viewpoint – instead of an issue based one – and it will more easily attract a community of interest’s attention.

    I’ve gotten some heat from both conservatives and liberals (even if I am a liberal) by trying to have a service that tries to build bridges across communities of interest like these.

    Now it could just be PF’s host that is the issue – I look in the mirror daily and ask whether I am managing the service well enough and the answer is always no – but when I look around at other services – and note successes and failures – it seems a general rule that can sometimes, but not always, be broken – the tighter the niche – the more passion the community.

    It’s a hell of a challenge to work against that rule.

    I’m all for it of course :)

    A disclaimer – in addition to hosting Philly Future, I’m advising Placeblogger.

  • I agree with where Carl is going. When I hear local, I think community instead. For plenty of people the community they belong to is based on geography, but for plenty of others it is based on something like living with ADHD or raising kids with Down’s or conservative politics or extreme sports. For those people the niche is local and the ADHD beakthru in Denmark is far more urgent than a murder spree down the block.

  • Didn’t one of the first “New Media” applications take place in the 80s when Newspapers started using electronic printing to produce several “Your Town” editions for all the individual places their papers were being sent? This is all about personalization and personalization is localization.

  • The other issues to consider with “local” is the transient nature of our lives and the relative “size” of the world today. Fewer people are making a commitment to any one community for more than a few years, and few people actually work in the same community where they live.

    And modern media—like the internet—have shrunk the world so that one’s social community is far less defined by locality than it once was.

    I’d like to connect with the town and area I live in, and still believe that holds rewards for both me and the community, but one could argue that it’s our societal infrastructure that needs to change—that we need to shift from a village mentality to a global, we’re all in this together on this little planet, hyperglobal, way of life.

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  • Leonard Brody

    Jeff, I agree ‘local’ is a big opportunity for NowPublic, we are on the same page about that. I think we just have different views about what local means.

    I do know that as people get older and have kids, their physical concept of local becomes very important. However, I am really a believer that as a generation of people raised on the web starts to enter that phase of their lives, they will have a much broader understanding of their locality.

    Either way….I agree with both you and Rafat…it is hard, and it is a great opportunity.

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