We Need Local News Now! Not a Week Later.

April 5, 2010

A few weekends ago, the Boston area where I live was pummeled with rain. We received twelve inches of rain in two days, about one third of our average yearly rain fall. As soon as the flood waters started to rise, I was desperate to get up to the minute accurate information. So I turned on my TV and logged on to the internet. I was quickly able to find up to date information about Boston. There were pictures of cars toppled over and news about power outages, all of the things you would expect during a major storm.

But I actually live in a suburb of Boston, so what I really wanted was information specifically about my local town. I decided to start searching for flood information directly related to my suburb. Nothing.

There simply wasn’t any information posted yet about the flood even though it had been going on for several hours already. I wanted desperately to know if any roads were going to be out, if the schools were going to shut down early, and if there might be a power outage coming up. But there just wasn’t any information of this kind available.

And then it dawned on me that our local town newspaper only comes out once a week. Next weekend, I would be sure to find lots of information about the storm and pictures of fallen trees and flooded streets. But what good would it actually do me then? Sure, I would probably be interested in seeing the pictures, but the information itself would no longer be of any use to me. I needed it delivered to me in real time so that I could make decisions based on this information. I needed to know if roads were out so that I could decide whether or not to try to drive. I needed to know if schools were closing early so I could pick up my son. I needed to know if a power outage would be likely so that I could take the necessary precautions.

But I couldn’t find any of this information. If we were to invent the local newspaper for the first time today, wouldn’t we make sure to make this information available in real time?

In the last few posts I’ve talked about switching to a “community hub” model, a website where community members come to get up to date relevant information, and that, on an opt-in basis, actually delivers information directly to them via emails and text messages.

Under this new model, city officials could deliver updated information in real time about road closures, possible power outages, and public service closures in real time. It could even be set up so that officials and reporters could update this information straight from their portable devices, so that even if the power is out in their homes or offices, they should still be able to get the word out.

Sure enough, the power did go out at my house, and I had no idea what we were going to do for dinner. Here’s what I really could have used in this situation:

Let’s say that Julie, the pizza shop owner from our previous post, still has power on at her shop. She sends a text message to the community hub (with whom she has a monthly paid subscription) that says: “We’ve still got power here at Julie’s. Come down for a hot meal and free bread sticks with any large pizza.” The community hub then distributes this message to community members who have opted to receive updates from local food purveyors like Julie’s Pizza.

Let me tell you something. If I had received this text message to my mobile device while I was sitting at home in the dark with my family, you can bet that I would have been at Julie’s pizza within minutes!

Everyone wins in this situation: Julie gets business for her pizza shop, the local news hub proves its value to Julie who continues her subscription, and I don’t have to drive aimlessly around town in order to find the one or two restaurants that are still open.

Think outside the newsstand,

Photo Credit by minds-eye

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