I came across this article in the New York Times today about hyperlocal web sites springing up in the wake of the collapse of the local newspaper. This evolution of news media should come as no surprise to any of us. While talking heads have been busy decrying the death of the local paper, innovation and evolution have, as they always do, quietly plodded along under the surface. The only difference is that we’re now moving along a new path, rather than a well-trod road.
I was lounging around the couch one recent weekend morning and caught an episode of Meet the Press. Or was it Hard Ball with Chris Matthews? Either way, it was a show no self-respecting 27-year-old should be caught watching, let alone be admitting to the entire Internet. And yet…the premise of the show was the future of newspapers. Specifically, the future of those dry, scratchy hard copies that make your fingers feel terribly uncomfortable before finally covering them in a nasty black smudge. What I found most disturbing about this panel of ‘brainpower’ was that no one on it was born in the digital age. Not one of these people grew up knowing any reality other than one where they picked up the newspaper from the front stoop. Not to mention, all the panelists were media professionals. They are, by nature, obsessed with newspapers! How are we going to get any real insight or diverse viewpoints? Like a doctor who cannot operate on his/her own child, these panelists were just too close to the action to be able to see anything objectively.
The Meet the Press/Hardball panel was terribly worried about who would report on city council meetings once we’ve put our trusty newspapers to sleep. They saw this information – and the coverage of it –as critical to citizens of any upstanding community. All this panel knew and could fathom was the notion of reporters covering local beats as the right of passage into higher level journalism.
Might it be possible that tomorrow’s city council meetings won’t be covered by steno-pad wielding journalists who report for the local Morning Call? What if these meetings are broadcast live via webcam, for all to see if they choose (perhaps the same audience known to watch Hardball on weekend mornings)? Locals could then comment on these meetings via message boards or web sites like the Times mentioned today.
I don’t know what will replace newspapers one day. I don’t think any of us do. But just because something is going away, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. Perhaps it’s just that its next iteration is one we haven’t invented yet. It might not be worse. It might not even be better. It may just be different. And I think that’s ok.