Tomorrow’s Local Newspaper May Not Be a Newspaper at All

August 31, 2010

A few months ago, the town where I live was hit by a major storm. Luckily, no one was hurt; but we had experienced what is called a “macro burst,” and everyone was understandably shaken up by all of the fallen trees and downed power lines. The storm only lasted a total of twenty minutes, but the damage was extensive. As soon as things started to quiet down, my natural curiosity urged me to get outside for a closer look at the damage. I started talking casually to my neighbors, and then I decided to take a few pictures of the downed lines and fallen trees on my iPhone.

When I got back inside I showed the pictures to my wife and she suggested that I send them over to the local news. Of course, living in a small town, the closest actual TV station was thirty miles away in Boston. So I logged onto the website for WCVB TV Boston and created an account for myself where I could upload the photos. And sure enough, my photos ended up on the Boston local news. All in all, it took about one hour from the time that I sent them in for the photos to be broadcast.

When my son–who is a professional photographer–got home from work, he decided to take some pictures of his own. Needless to say, these were superior to mine and they made the news as well. You can see my photos here and the ones that my son took here. But more to the point, this whole experience brought me back to a conversation I had had a week earlier with my good friend David Holroyd, founder of eCast Videos. David had told me that he felt that in the near future, he didn’t think that newspapers would be “papers” at all. Instead, they would consist of several types of content at once: text to be sure, but also images, audio, and video, all in a robust and interconnected portal.

But it wasn’t until my town’s scuffle with a “macro burst” that I fully understood the importance of this idea. A multimedia portal on a local level would be able to combine the best from both the local capabilities of my town paper, and the slightly wider and less specific capabilities of the urban TV station. After all, it would have made far more sense for me to send the pictures of the storm to a news organization in my neighborhood rather than to a TV station thirty miles away in Boston. This way the information would be specifically targeted to those who are the most likely to consume it, the people who where actually directly effected by the storm.

And even more importantly, this portal could be a hybrid between professionally created content and user created content. Users such as myself could deliver the type of content that it is impractical for hyper-local newspapers to create such as large amounts of images of sudden occurrences or brief tweet-like constant updates, while the paid journalists could stay busy adding value to this content by digging deeper into the more complex stories. But one thing is for sure: the local newspaper of tomorrow won’t be a newspaper at all; it will be a robust and dynamic community portal.

Think outside the newsstand,
Joe

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