You Can’t Do HyperLocal from the Corporate Ivory Tower!

April 12, 2010

Dear New York Times,

I recently read a blog post over at about your “hyperlocal efforts.” It cites your recent collaboration with Fwix in order to conglomerate news about particular local areas into a massive “local” news database, all from the comfort of your corporate ivory tower. Using Fwix’s software, you would gather all of the published news stories about each town or neighborhood and gather them all in one place. And honestly, Fwix has done some really great work here and I really admire their products, so please don’t take this letter as a knock against them.

There’s just one problem: “Conglomeration” has nothing to do with real local journalism! You’re not actually creating local journalism, you’re just cataloging what is already there. With all due respect, this is no more than a bad attempt at finding a silver bullet solution to the local news problem. All that you’ve done is use Fwix’s excellent ingenuity to throw together a bunch of articles using a software algorithm.

The value of local news go so much deeper than this. Hyper local is about actually being in touch with a community, something that only people who actually live in that community can do. You can’t do hyper local remotely. You need real local news organizations who actually know their communities to do this kind of work. These are the local newspapers in American communities who send their reporters onto the streets every day to report on what is happening and to foster a sense of connectedness within the community. Only a local organization can do this, not a computer algorithm alone, no matter how helpful it may be.

Local news is already working; its already doing what it does better than the New York Times ever could. The only problem is that local news agencies need to find a way to actually monetize this very special relationship that they have with their communities so that both can continue to thrive. And luckily, this is the easy part. The community is already there, and people already rely on local newspapers. We just have to figure out how they can make enough money to continue and thrive, and this is the mission behind Civic Edition.

So no, New York Times, your new hyper local focus is not local at all, unless by local you mean native to the 28th floor of your corporate office on 8th avenue in New York City. Despite what you may think to the contrary, real local news is still a necessity for the people who live and work in small towns and in non-centralized boroughs in major cities.  You can’t save local news by transporting it away from the communities where it is actually observed and reported on.

Think outside the newsstand,

Photo by Vidiot

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