Or rather, can they afford not to? People in the digital world expect information to be delivered right away, as soon as events happen. But local news papers are too strapped for resources to make this happen. What’s the solution?
In order to deepen my understanding of the issues that we’re trying to tackle here at CivicEdition, I decided to perform interviews with editors at a few local newspapers. I purposely chose local newspapers that were in different stages of the process of opening up an online edition. Some were simply thinking about going online, while others were in the middle of the process, and a few had actually just begun publishing an online edition.
Here is what I learned:
Most local newspapers service very small communities–generally between 6,500 and 30,000 people–and they usually only have a small handful of full time employees to take care of the load of news that they need to deliver, although they may also hire editors and reporters on a per job basis. The most important thing however, that I noticed was that most of these local newspapers did not have the resources to take on additional staff for the transition to online news. They had to share the burden among their small teams of employees, usually without hiring even one extra person.
On top of this, these local news organizations are now expected to deliver information in real time, rather than once a week. Hence, they’re under more pressure than ever before. Compound this with the fact that many of the stories that they report on happen in the evening–when news workers expect to have their time to themselves–and you can begin to see how overloaded with work local newsrooms are becoming in the digital age.
For example, take a local high school baseball game. It used to be that reporters would publish the results of any big games in the weekly edition of the local newspaper, and this was considered reasonable by the citizens of the town or borough. But now, people expect information to be delivered in real time; they want the results of the game to be posted as soon as it’s over. The problem is that journalists are people who have lives and families just like anyone else. They can’t be available to attend every event that happens off hours during the week, such as a high school baseball game that doesn’t end until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. This is just too much pressure on these very small news teams.
I heard variations on this story from each of the local news editors that I talked to. As soon as they’d finished, I would ask, “But what about having community journalists take care of reporting on these kinds of things?” Not too surprisingly, this question earned an uncomfortable look accompanied by the retort, “Well, I don’t think that you would take your car to a community mechanic or want to be served by a community chef, would you?”
It seemed like they felt like I was suggesting that volunteers could successfully take over their jobs, which isn’t at all what I meant. So I went on to explain that what I’m suggesting is not to have volunteer reporters but to have members of the community who serve as information gatherers on the most basic level. For example, the coach of the baseball team could upload the score from the game herself onto the news website along with pictures if appropriate. These information gatherers would simply upload data to a form on the news room’s website, not actually write up full stories. Then the reporter would give interviews and perform deeper data collection at a later time, only when necessary.
After having qualified my earlier statement, I noticed that the editors were much more receptive to this idea. The only problem was that they didn’t have the technology to implement a system in which members of the community could upload information. The problem is not unwillingness to change, it’s a lack of having the right tools to implement change. Local news editors are not always tech savvy and so they don’t know how to make this kind of change happen.
However, what if a group of motivated people were to build an easy to use software model that could be implemented by even the least tech savvy local newsroom editors? Could this make a difference? Maybe this could be a part of what CivicEdition offers to the world of local news. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Think outside the newsstand,
Image by inju