Saturday, February 11, 2006

Investment: Why Citizen Journalism is the Future

Dan Kennedy has a great article in Commonwealth this month about citizen journalism and in particular. You may recall that on this blog Kennedy pointed out how Lisa Williams is not a journalist but practices journalism. He expands on that idea a little in this piece.

But in the middle is a great quote from a local official. You see, like many small cities and towns, Watertown used to have two publications: the Sun and the Press. Through consolidation they were eventually bought by CNC media (now owned by the Boston Herald) and combined into the Watertown Tab and Press. My home city of Newton had a similar issue where two local papers became one.

The papers are stepping stones toward larger and better jobs. And locals do, in fact, notice:

Among those lamenting these developments is Bill Oates, a veteran Watertown community leader currently serving on the school committee. "“When you would read the stories, you would get the context," he says of the Sun and the Press. In contrast, he says, reporters at the Tab tend to be young and unfamiliar with Watertown--and they quickly move on. "“I think a lot of them do a nice job, but they never get the depth of understanding,"” Oates says.
I spent a very short time in Binghamton, N.Y. as a TV producer. In order to better understand my environment, I spent weekends in the local libraries reading past newspapers, histories of the city and even sifting through census data. I also talked to police officers and others. My wife was back in Boston, but I spent many weekends away from her.

About a year later I was a producer in Boston when one of my writers got a job in New Haven. My advice to him was to spend time there, learn the landscape, and remember that while it's not his home, it is to his viewers.

He called me a short time later to tell me that he didn't need to bother, an anchor told promised to guide him through the stories. I felt like I just hadn't gotten through.

Without an investment in the local landscape it's almost impossible to cover an area properly. Every community has people who show up at every key board meeting just because they want to be involved. Many end up running for local office, but some are just concerned over a topic. I know a woman here in town who grew up in Newton, has run for office several times (and lost) and is very active in civic life. She knows everyone and everyone knows her. This is the kind of person who should have a blog. I can't wait for the day that all those people I used to see in village and town board meetings back when I was a cub reporter in Rockland County get their own blogs.

It's also why I like people like Brian Stuy, he brings perspective and history to the discussion about Chinese adoption, something that a reporter from evpublicationction like the New York Times could never do.

Yes, specialized publications have long existed, but the low cost of publishing, ease with which a "publication" can be created,infiniteinate reach of the Internet bring this idea to an entirely new level.

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