Archives » January 31st, 2009

January 31, 2009

The Future of Placeblogging

Cory Bergman talks about the future of placeblogging (not in those words), what will happen when these blogs grow out of being individual pursuits or hobbies for their writers, and become full-fledged news outlets, providing local news on a level that not even a newspaper can provide. What prompted this was a meeting of the Seattle City Council that was convened to discuss what will happen in Seattle when the Post-Intelligencer goes out of business, which is scheduled to happen in just a couple of months. How will Seattle function with just one newspaper? What will happen if the Seattle Times has to follow, and the city is left with {gasp} no newspapers? To this end the Council invited a couple of bloggers to the discussion, although not just any bloggers. It was Tracy Record of WestSeattleBlog and David Brewster of Crosscut.com, two of the best local news blogs Seattle has to offer. And the third leg of the triangle is Cory Bergman himself, who runs the MyBallard family of sites, who was invited to the meeting but couldn’t make it. So he watched it streaming live instead.

All three of these sites really represent the future both of news and of placeblogging, the place where the two intersect. They’re not hobbies, they’e not “labors of love”, they’re actual businesses dedicated to gathering and presenting news. They just choose to do it in the blog format, and they do it with an eye to the future, not the past. One of the first questions in the article is “how will we save newspapers?” And the answer given, which is the correct one, is don’t worry about saving newspapers, worry about saving news. Saving journalism. This is a topic that has kept coming up in the last few years, where we look at the word newspaper, and split it into its component parts. News and Paper. Which of those is more important? News, of course, and paper is just the way to deliver it. Well, now people are deciding that they don’t want paper anymore, they just want news. And the newspaper companies are freaking out, because they think they’re in the business of selling paper. We need to keep drilling into their heads that it’s the news we’re interested in, and we’d rather get it on the screen than on a piece of paper. They also need to realize that they’re facing real competition from online-only sources now, and just because they’ve been around for a hundred years doesn’t mean they get to keep coasting on their past success forever.

The fact is, and this article kind of underscores it, news blogs are the number one competition to newspapers, and many of them are whupping the newspapers at their own game. But the newspapers aren’t taking them seriously. They’re swatting at them like gnats instead of hunkering down and competing with them. I want to quote from this article, but seriously the whole thing is so quotable that I’m having trouble pulling out just one thing. Maybe this passage:

So what about all these “blogs.” Are they “professional journalists?” How do we know they’re accurate? They might hear an explosion and post that “we’ve been bombed.” (Yes, that was a quote from a councilmember.)

This is when I about fell out of my chair. Seattle, as I’ve written before, is on the cutting edge of online neighborhood news with over two dozen sites and counting. (Please note these neighborhood sites are not like most neighborhood blogs: we actively cover the news.) About half of these are from people who have worked as traditional journalists at some point over their careers, like Tracy Record and me. The others, like Amber Campbell of RainierValleyPost, taught herself journalism, covering her lower-income, high-crime neighborhood with a depth and conviction that no newspaper or TV station in town can match. After all, when there’s a gang shooting, TV stations go live at 11 p.m. and drop the story the next day. Campbell hits the street in her own neighborhood, talks to families and looks for answers. Is she not a professional journalist? Hell yes, she is.

Brewster put it this way to the council: “Relax a bit.”

Because at the end of the day, neighborhood news sites that stretch the truth will alienate their audiences and become insignificant. The ones that get it right will grow in credibility, loyalty and audience.

A couple of months ago I went through and added every Seattle placeblog I could find to my Google Reader. And even though I don’t get to read them every day, when I do dip my toe into the Seattle news flow I’m impressed at the depth of the reporting that they do, and the range of topics that they cover. Sure, West Seattle Blog had a post about a coyote that was trapped by the waterfront. And you’d never see that kind of article in a newspaper. But the reason I subscribed to the blogs, and not the newspaper feeds, is because those are the kinds of stories I want to see. And I’m not alone. I’m part of a growing number of people that are getting tired of the kind of news the newspapers think is important, and we want a different kind of coverage of our towns. The newspapers think it’s beneath them to compete with the blogs, and that’s why the newspapers are in trouble.

Chuck Taylor also has put up his Twitstream of the Seattle city council meeting, and his Life in a zero-newspaper town series is required reading.

links for 2009-01-31