Losing the Local

I wrote in comments to Dan Gillmor’s post yesterday that David Lazurus sounded frustrated and perhaps even frightened, and then today I read from Tim O’Reilly that the San Francisco Chronicle is in trouble. This follows on from ValleyWag, which has stated that the long-term publication, InfoWorld, is closing it’s doors: news I’ve been expecting ever since Jon Udell left the publication.

What’s interesting with all of this is that people keep conflating these publications with ‘hard’ copy that’s put on the street. These organizations are more than just a way to add to land fill: they provide the infrastructure from which discovery is made and then passed on. Oh, it may seem as if most of these publications only put out crap nowadays, but if you’ll look closely, you’ll see the quiet stories, the unexciting facts, and stuff we need to know to go about our lives. We have taken all of this for granted, and like the song, we won’t know what we’ve lost until it’s gone.

On the possibility of losing our local publications, Tim writes:

We talk about creative destruction, and celebrate the rise of blogging as citizen journalism and Craigslist as self-service advertising, but there are times when something that seemed great in theory arrives in reality, and you understand the downsides. I have faith both in the future and in free markets as a way to get there, but sometimes the road is hard. If your local newspaper were to go out of business, would you miss it? What kinds of jobs that current newspapers do would go undone?

We’d lose all of our quiet stories, for a start. We’ll lose our quiet stories, and then we’ll be reminded that the Big Stories were once quiet stories that someone found and told.

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6 Responses to Losing the Local

  1. Charles says:

    The destruction of the news business is their own fault. In a search for more profits through an “economy of scale,” the rush to consolidate media power in the hands of a few megacorporations is causing the demise of local journalism.
    Just to give a local example, my local TV station used to do a lot of investigative reporting. They won a Pulitzer Prize after a reporter uncovered a kickback scheme in the Sewer Department, the chief was buying chemicals from a buddy for 2000% of their actual value, and he got half the excess profits as a kickback. Going through public records of the Sewer department is not a glamorous job, but a little basic sleuthing resulted in jail sentences for corrupt officials, and eventually, a public referendum that changed the city’s governmental structure and eliminated the position of Mayor in favor of a city administrator.
    But that was 10 years ago. Now the station is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Most “local” stories are transmitted from the Sinclair-owned Fox News station in the state capitol 250 miles away. The news is now dominated by phony “video news releases” by companies with commercial interests, or even worse, a syndicated conservative columnist speaking on behalf of the Sinclair Group. Oh but they have kept one long-time “local color” reporter, who is always ready to show the “human interest” stories like the exhibit of Elvis’ old wardrobe at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum. Sheesh.
    The FCC made all this crap happen, by relaxing rules on media ownership. The concentration of ownership of media outlets into the hands of a few megacorporations is the natural result. Now the news is a corporate product.

  2. Shelley says:

    I agree that the mergers have hurt more than help, but at some point in time we have to have something that provides the local news. TV news doesn’t hack it, it’s not typically indepth.

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  5. I’ve been reading more of the local newspaper’s print edition lately. Though there are still compelling stories on the front of each section, the bulk of the paper is wire copy I could get from 100 different places if the paper were to go under.

    Some of the stuff I care the most about, like local book reviews, are disappearing fast.

    I don’t think we’ll lose local news if we lose local newspapers. If people have a need to know something, entities online or off will arise to fill that need.

  6. Shelley says:

    Rogers, I think that’s again the equivalent of the blackboard and saying, “…and then a miracle happens”. I don’t think we can assume that _something_ will come along and fill a need.