Building a wide news commons

Let’s support tightly-focused, independent newsrooms.

Ben Werdmuller

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Doc Searls writes about what he calls wide news:

Local and regional papers covered politics, government, crises, disasters, sports, fashion, travel, business, religion, births, deaths, schools, and happenings of all kinds. They had reporters assigned across all their sections. No other medium could go as wide.

Doc’s argument is that a local commons of publications can, together, create a wide news ecosystem that fulfills the same role (with potentially deeper content). I agree.

I started my career building the first website and BBS for a local paper in Oxford that carried classified ads as well as event listings, notices, and that sort of thing: all the community stuff that the internet took over from newspapers. (As it happens, it’s still around, but most are not.) It was a real community hub, to the extent that anyone could come to the office to do some word-processing or get their photocopying done: a co-working space in the midst of the paper’s offices, long before anyone knew what co-working was.

Social media — and early on, blogging in particular — has played this role of reporting widely around a community. You could click through to local blogs, or Twitter, and learn about things that happened around your town. I found this particularly useful when I visited somewhere I didn’t live: for example, on my regular visits to San Francisco, I’d check out the blogs and Upcoming to see where I should be going.

But as social media has consolidated, many of those venues have gone away. (Some were replaced by Twitter bots, which have now also gone away.) It’s also easier to discover some types of voices than others: for someone to post regularly to the internet, they need to have a certain level of free time, technical prowess, equipment at their disposal, and so on. And it’s easier for someone in an “in” crowd to be linked to and re-shared than an entirely new voice with an underrepresented perspective, who might not have the same level of systemic support.

While news papers are obsolete technology, local news rooms are vitally important: journalists have a remit to tell stories that might not otherwise be told. That might be a story…

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Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.