Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why Local News is Your Future

As the San Francisco Chronicle shrinks both figuratively and literally (it reduced its size this week and there is barely any news in it since 150 staffers were let go) journalists around the region are looking for new models on covering the news.

There are lots of different news sites popping up to fill the void, such as SFist, SF Appeal, The Public Press, and the San Francisco Sentinel. They are all sites that try and give a global perspective to the region.

But if a gathering of about 20 local bloggers Thursday night at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is any indication, the future belongs to sites that focus not on broad swaths of territory, but small neighborhoods. I am referring to hyper-local sites, places where readers can get news about local stores, local crime, and good eats, as well as larger stories that look at government institutions.

The group came together to talk about the successes and struggles of running a website on a shoestring. While the discussion focused to a large degree on how to earn income from a hyper-local blog, it also strayed into questions on how to keep a site current with fresh material, how to increase the impact of a story, and ways to collaborate.

The journalism school has jumped into the hyper-local vision of journalism in a big way: using money it got from the Knight Foundation it has started a number of neighborhood web sites. Now first semester students spend their time reporting in one central city or neighborhood and posting stories to that site. This fall students will report for Mission Local, a site that covers the San Francisco Mission district; Oakland North, a site that covers the northern section of Oakland, and a new site for the city of Richmond.

It's not just journalism schools and independents who are going hyper-local. The New York Times has set up a series of blogs on its website that cover small neighborhoods. SFGate is also experimenting with some of these sites. There is one in Marin and one in Alameda.

I attended the meeting because I have been blogging about the Bay Area literary scene at Ghost Word for four years. It’s not really a hyper-local site though. Recently I have started to contribute to InBerkeley, a new website started by Lance Knobel and Dave Winer, so I rode in on their coattails. (I am also now blogging for SFGate as one of their City Brights writers)

While the meeting was mostly a get-to-know-you discussion, it was gratifying to discover that journalists and community activists are trying to fill the void left by the decline of traditional newspaper journalism. There are many good local sites out there. Here are a few:

Oakland North
Mission Local
A Better Oakland
California Beat
Future Oakland
The Island
Albany Today
N Judah Chronicles
The Oakbook
El Cerrito Wire
The Harrioak News
Church Hill People's News
San Francisco Everyblock
RVA News (a collection of Richmond blogs)
Hills and Heights (Richmond)
Near West End News (Richmond)
North Richmond News
River District News

While is not a hyper-local site, its success is definitely tied to them. It's s site to pioneer "community-funded" journalism, Freelancers post story ideas on the site and people pledge donations to fund various investigations.


john m said...

We have a great collection of loosely-affiliated community blogs here in Richmond, VA. (I publish this one.)

We've got 2 interesting things going that I haven't heard of elsewhere:

1) a site that aggregates the individual 'hood blogs to act as a city-wide news source; and

2) a common ad network that lets local folks get ad space on one or all of many of the community blogs. We are starting to make money.

Greg said...

hey thanks for the shout out and the link!

Suzanne Yada said...

Thanks for mentioning us. We believe strongly there will be a future for a general-interest news source, but we also think there's a huge need for niche blogs. We'd love to be a hub for all these niches to come together!

I've added this blog and many you've mentioned to our RSS reader. Thanks a million.

-Suzanne Yada