What’s the news today? To find out, I have several choices. I can scan the latest electronic updates in my inbox; I can flit through Twitter or other social media gatherings in cyberspace; or I can take my newspaper and cup of coffee into the garden and sit in the sun while real birds twitter in the trees.
In the end I do all three. And though it is much more pleasant sitting in the sun, the news is no better in the garden. The Cumbrian killings, Gaza and a pervading sense of economic gloom dominate world and national news.
Inside, on my laptop I find local headlines gleaned from local bloggers and community websites whose news and views are increasingly taking the place of the local newspaper.
But who has time to track all this down? Today, as it happens, I have time to spare since a morning meeting was cancelled – and thanks to two enterprising young (new media) men I can scan local websites with just a couple of clicks. Ally Tibbitt (whose GreenerLeith website won a hyperlocal blog award earlier this year) and Tom Allan Guardian beatblogger are both exploring the potential of crowd sourcing.
As Ally explains on the Edinbuzz home page:
Edinbuzz aims to crowd source news about Edinburgh, and help more people to share news about their neighbourhood.
This is ‘hyperlocal’ news in action. “Hyperlocal sounds like something from Startrek,” says Tommy pithily but it’s an interesting development of citizen journalism and as a former local newspaper hack I have mixed feelings: I am fumbling my way through the maze of social media networks and I badly need a compass.
Like most people I know, I find local newspapers thoroughly depressing. I hate the negative misinformation that masquerades as news. I pity the shrinking workforce of badly paid reporters. I understand the old (paid for) media is struggling to compete with new media freely available online but the newspaper industry cannot restore readership by cutting quality – I know at least one Johnston Press editor who is under severe pressure to cut staff and increase circulation at the same time.
So I congratulate both Tom and Ally on a generous and innovative move to provide better information for local people. But it’s a challenging project. Can unpaid bloggers fill the gap left by local newspapers? How many of us have time, skill and resources to do the rigorous research that produces a good, well-balanced, accurately-informed newspaper story? How do we guard against simply repeating what each other says without checking the facts – wandering around the Hall of Mirrors, as Alan McIntosh of the Spurtle so succinctly put it at the informal gathering of local bloggers organised by Tom Allan last week?
Who has the answers? For now – thanks to Tom’s roundup – I am glad to see that when I catch the train to Glasgow I may soon be able to enjoy free wi-fi, giving me a choice of struggling with a newspaper or opening my laptop to follow the news. Wherever it comes from.