March 09, 2004

Local News: The Public's Journalism

I've said it here and here and here, that local news is a newspaper's franchise to lose. It is the one distinguishing type of reporting and information that separates Your Local Times from the glut of news served up by Yahoo or Google.

The irony is that the greatest threat to newspapers' struggle for continued relevance may be not the new media companies, but members of the disenfranchised public who cannot find the news they want or need in their local paper so they're, to borrow from Scoop Nisker, going out and making some of their own.

That's what Jim Zellmer of Madison, Wis., is doing -- covering the local school board election online with candidate interviews, schedules and campaign finance reports.

This is participatory journalism, or as J.D. Lasica, Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis called it in a report for New Directions for News, "We Media." Writing for the story for the Online Journalism Review of this upswell of grassroots reporting, Lasica quoted San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor:

"It's about readers participating in the editorial process, and it's long overdue. People at the edges of the network are getting a chance to become more involved in traditional journalism by using many of the same tools of the trade. This is tomorrow's journalism, with professionals and gifted amateurs as partners." (Emphasis added).

This is traditional reporting, technology enabled and driven by one man's desire. As Jeff Jarvis said today, pointing to Zellmer's work: "All it takes is one citizen who cares... and a keyboard."

Imagine what a newspaper could do with many reporters and many keyboards if only it could break free of conventions dictating what it should do.

(Thanks to Gillmor and Jarvis).

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Posted by Tim Porter at March 9, 2004 06:26 AM