By Steve Outing
When some news people think about “citizen journalism,” the inclination is to think of encouraging (and perhaps teaching) non-journalists to act like journalists. For example, my hometown paper features something called MyTown, which announces:
“Post news, events and photos. Blog, create your own groups, set up RSS feeds, and build your own communities and web spaces. It’s up to you to provide the nitty-gritty details that make your community special. No news is too small — from Little League to college scholarships, professional accolades to pie-baking contests, volunteer opportunities to neighborhood watch programs.”
That’s fine, but I think any local news organization is going to have trouble trying to get community members to drop what they’re doing and start doing reporting on “hyperlocal” happenings (for free, of course). Some people will do it, but probably very few. Largely, such initiatives will attract those local businesses and community organizations wanting to post press releases or announcements (ZZZZZZ).
Here’s a better strategy to add to the more common one described above: Look for people within the community that are already producing hyperlocal or community-group news.
For example, most schools in your city probably get scant coverage from the local newspaper. When something significant happens, it makes headlines, but the large quantity of more mundane news goes unreported. But it’s not actually unreported. Each school has a newsletter for parents, produced by a parent volunteer, a teacher, administrative assistant, and/or principal. Ditto for many community groups.
As the recent Newspaper Next 2.0 report suggests, newspapers need to evolve into local information and connection utilities. To serve that task (on top of being traditional news providers), newspapers should start dealing with stuff like news and information coming out of local schools and organizations.
Picking up this information shouldn’t be too hard. Some schools (to stick with using them as an example) will already publish RSS feeds for their newsletters; simply pick up the feed and add it to an expanded local-education section of your website. Others may need to be coaxed into sending you their weekly newsletter, which you’ll need to process and publish.
Another idea is to recruit people from each school (and community group, etc.) to take what they already do and move it up a notch by posting it to the local newspaper website. Offer an incentive: perhaps a free subscription to the print edition; a split of ad revenues generated by the school-news page; or even a small “stringer” fee. It could be as simple as letting these people assign their own Google AdSense account to their page on the newspaper site and keep the resulting ad revenue.
The idea here fits with the Newspaper Next 2 recommendations. A local newspaper needs to be the place where people first think to go to get information that’s important to them. Right now, when I want news about my daughter’s elementary school, I don’t go to the local newspaper website; I go to the school’s website.
By reaching out to providers of broader and deeper local information who are already producing it, a newspaper can move toward being more of a “utility” (that is, more of a local Google) than just a “newspaper.”