Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ultra-Local Citizen Journalism

By Eric Pickhartz

With the struggles the newspaper industry has been facing, there’s no doubt the future of news is shifting into a completely different animal. Since consumers have a wealth of available information, and seemingly no barriers keeping them from finding it, there has been a movement of ultra-local news sites, devoted to one specific neighborhood or geographical area and the news that happens within it. Ultimately, it is citizen journalists who contribute the most to such sites, and now more than ever the consumers are becoming the producers in their own backyards.

The Gazette Media Company, a UK-based publisher, was at the forefront of this movement. Their Gazette Communities page includes twenty-three neighborhood sites devoted to communities surrounding Middlesbrough, Britain. Each one includes stories aimed directly towards the people, businesses, and news-worthy goings-on of one specific area. This way, consumers can hone in on the news that affects them most in a catered and customized fashion.

On this side of the Atlantic, MSNBC Interactive News acquired EveryBlock.com, a site that gathers news coverage, blog entries, public data and photos from small areas of cities and serves as an aggregator. MSNBC.com President Charlie Tillinghast said in a release that “EveryBlock provides basic public information” as traditional coverage of things like local government “declined under severe economic pressure. We are positioned to help EveryBlock lead us into local markets nationwide and serve as a foundation for a new form of local journalism.”

Ultimately, professional journalists are not always available to cover news on such small scales, and when they aren’t, the citizens are. Even YouTube has launched the “YouTube Reporter’s Center,” instructing citizens how to make the most of the news they encounter. As journalism students, training to achieve the status and accreditation of professional news producers, this is slightly discouraging. Pros like Katie Couric are giving interview tips, and behind-the-scenes members of the media help citizens develop their stories. Isn’t that what we are paying tuition for? And if this continues, will a journalism degree fail to set us apart from anyone else? Will an iPhone replace the voice recorder, video camera, press pass, and publishing company? We hope not, but must still embrace this change and find ways to work within the new model.

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