By Steve Outing
I encourage you you to check out the American Press Institute’s new report: “Newspaper Next 2.0: Making the Leap Beyond ‘Newspaper Companies’.” There’s some great advice in this free publication, and this week I’ll be pulling out a few tips and featuring them here.
Principal author Stephen T. Gray’s primary message is that newspaper companies need to stop being “newspaper companies” and start being “local information and connection utilities.” It’s an important and optimistic message — that newspaper companies needn’t be pessimistic about their futures, but rather should look at the incredible range of opportunities spread before them. But to have a positive future, they need to stop being “newspaper companies.”
One of the opportunities for serving newspapers’ communities is the “localpedia” concept. It’s simple enough to understand. Take Wikipedia and create a local version. Invite members of the community (especially local experts — in community history, government, tourism, etc.) to share what they know and over time build an invaluable community resource. It becomes “the place I think to go first when I want to find out something about my community.”
Right now the first thing most people do when they want to find out something — including something in their communities — is search Google. Or maybe Wikipedia. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if the local “information utility” (former newspaper company) has done a good job of hosting and supporting the creation of a localpedia.
The report notes that newspapers on a daily basis contain information that should be in a local knowledge repository. So in addition to community members and local experts contributing to the knowledge base, newspaper information workers (editors, reporters, photographers, librarians) can help build the localpedia.
I would go further and encourage a strong oversight role for a newspaper’s librarians (assuming it’s a large enough publication to have people in those positions). The localpedia/Wikipedia concept is that community members are the editors, but it could be especially beneficial if a newspaper’s trained knowledge workers spend time ensuring that mistakes and factually wrong content from community members get fixed by professionals. That could give the public some additional confidence in the information published on the localpedia, and provide a leg up over sites like Wikipedia that are purely community-edited.
Wikipedia is non-profit, but the API report suggests that a localpedia could become a good advertising vehicle. Absolutely!