J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Archive for September 23rd, 2006

As NewAssignment.net Rides High, Questions About Localism

Posted by chanders on September 23, 2006

First, the good news: some big-time money is flowing into NewAssignment.net. Of course, "big-time money" is a relative term; compared to the budgets of most media organizations,
$10,000 from the Sunlight Foundation and even $100,000 from Reuters is mere chump change. But as far as experimental online journalism projects go, its pretty good. As always, Jay has the complete round-up at his blog. It’s also worth reading the announcement straight from the mouths of Reuters themselves, over at Huffington Post (his opening line seems a little late: "Without corrective action, we are in danger of the public losing faith in the fourth estate." Umm … hello??? "in danger of losing??" Methinks the horse has flown the coop on this one.)

So regardless of the eventual success or failure of NewAssignment, it seems that the initial idea has gotten a lot of people in the industry excited. Of course, Rosen would be the first to note that NewAssignment is a niche website, at least for now. It can’t– and won’t– do everything.

One of the things I wonder if it will do, and I think it will not do, is cover what used to be called "local news." Most of the ideas about initial NA.net projects are national in scope– "how family-friendly are America‚Äôs companies, really?" is one of story ideas, for example. National stories, of course, are a perfect way to make use of "network effects," i.e., the relatively easy ability of dispersed groups of people to get a handle on large-scale social phenomena by pooling their resources. But although I’m reassured by the fact that I know that NewAssignment.net isn’t trying to do everything, I’m a little worried that the movement of the excitement and the money in such a national direction. After all, while journalism generally sucks everywhere, it sucks less on a national level than it does locally, if one can make such a blanket statement. I’d hate to see the energy of the online journalism world go only towards creating NewAssignment.net as the New York Times of the networked journalism world (though it would be great if NA became the New York Times of the networked journalism world, just as long as other things got a chance to grow as well.)

This is partly why I’m happy to see signs of stirring over on the Philly-NORG scene. A couple good emails have passed back and forth over on the (now public) Yahoo Group, and there are the early stages of both a wiki and a website, too.

I want to be clear, for what it’s worth– this post isn’t an attempt to create some "us versus them" type scenario … either we go local or we go national, we go NORG or we go N.A. Thats just dumb, especially considering that neither group is really trying to replicate the other (and of course that there are overlapping participants working within each group). I am trying to push the question of what models– financial, journalistic, philosophical– might work locally. What can NORGS, and other local journalistic projects, take from the NewAssignment experiment? And what will they have to leave behind? I think these are interesting questions, and tossing some ideas up against the rubber that is the quickly congealing NewAssignent model might be one way to ponder them.

OK, so a little more on localism while I’m on the subject. Check out the really informative conversation going on about hyperlocal media in the comments section of my posts on Typologies of Online Journalism. Kpaul from Indiana makes a point that I think relates to my previous bit, above: "don’t count out the regional independents yet, though. A lot of us realize the need to do more serious journalism. We know that takes money, though. The trick is going to be in raising money through the existing sites (with our bake sale stories) while building a bond with the community. At some point (at least in my plan) there will be paid reporters, stringers, photogs, etc."

How to raise the money?  … Another way in which comparison with NewAssignment (what from their model applies? What doesn’t) might be useful.


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