Archives » August 28th, 2006

August 28, 2006

Hyperlocal Handed Down From Above

Jeff Jarvis points to the site Hartsville Today. It’s a hyperlocal community site where anyone can post stories, but it’s run by the local newspaper so it’s not exactly a grassroots effort. A lot of people have their hands in this pot. The local paper, The Messenger; the School of Journalism at the University of South Carolina; and the New Voices project of the University of Maryland. That’s a lot of heavy firepower aimed at this little town of 7,500, and it makes the whole thing smell more like Journalism students carrying out an experiment on a town that they don’t live in rather than anything rising up from the community itself.

See also GoSkokie, or rather don’t see it, because it isn’t there anymore. You can read its story here. That site was also a class project by Journalism students, and they picked a small town on the outskirts of Chicago to build a website for. The site was built, a few contributors were recruited, and presumably all the students got passing grades. When the class was over, the founding students pulled out (because they didn’t have any affiliation with the town, so why should they care) and the site collapsed. Posting levels dropped near zero. The whole thing was hosted on University servers, and eventually the school pulled the plug. Presumably all the community’s work is gone now, maybe stored on a backup tape in a basement somewhere. Probably the most lasting thing about GoSkokie was the final report the students prepared (PDF) before they left it twisting in the wind.

Hartsville Today, coincidentally enough, also has a PDF file about its startup days. There’s a lot of info in there about building the site and going out into the community to spread the word and get contributors. There’s probably a lot I can learn from it. But just the existence of this report is troubling, like it’s a “final report” in the same sense as the GoSkokie project. How long will it be before the school pulls out of its involvement in the site, and leaves it to the community to keep it up? And the site lies fallow so the newspaper finally pulls the plug? The thing about these hyperlocal sites is that you’ve got to have somebody passionate at the center of the thing, at least until you hit a critical mass of contributors. And that person at the center can’t be a Journalism student from five towns over, and they can’t be an editor at the local newspaper that secretly thinks the whole project is doomed to fail. It has to be someone in the community, someone that wants the site to grow and thrive, and is willing to put in the work to make it happen. Like Baristanet and Debbie Galant. Like H2OTown and Lisa Williams. Like Reno and its Discontents and Myrna the Minx. And yes, like Around Carson and me. A community site is nothing without the community, and the best ones are ones that have sprung up from outside the universities, outside the newsrooms, by the people in the community who are being let down by the local papers and want something better, something more.

You’ll notice something else about those sites I pointed to; each one of them has a small number of contributors. In fact, they’re little more than personal blogs with just one or two authors. Maybe it’s because the founders are writers and tech people that have little know-how about going out and rounding up people to contribute. But the thing is that these sites, with their single authors, are still doing better than these sites with dozens of contributors that are birthed out of the hips of a J-school somewhere. That’s because the founders of those “projects” don’t care about the site, or the community it serves. They just care about their grade. Or about the ideal of citizen journalism as a whole, and using the site as a proof of concept. If the site succeeds it’s a trophy they can talk about in their thesis. If it fails, it doesn’t matter because it was just an experiment. Those rubes don’t know nothin’ about the Internet anyway. They can always move on to the next little town and try again.

Maybe that’s just me being cynical and thinking that grassroots media needs to spring up from the grassroots, not be handed down by the establishment. That these initiatives are more examples of Journalists thinking they control the news, and that they’re being nice by giving us permission to be reporters too. In our own little corner. Away from the “real” news happening in the paper.

But I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.


The Amazing Race has won another Emmy. That makes four in a row now; it’s won every single year the “Outstanding Reality-Competition Program” category has been awarded. Of course, these are the Emmys we’re talking about, the body that gives out the same awards to the same people every year (Will & Grace won again? But it was cancelled!). So maybe by now a vote for the Race has become a vote of familiarity; it won last year, so they just give it another vote this year.

Andy Denhart at reality blurred is not happy, mostly because the Race won the Emmy during the same year the Family Edition was on. But I still think The Amazing Race is better than the competition. Survivor is just going through the motions these days, with season after season that just seem to blend together. And American Idol is a fun show, but it’s by no means a good show. So I guess if anyone’s going to get the Emmy, it should be the Amazing Race. They also won Outstanding Cinematography and Outstanding Editing, both of which they really deserve.

And speaking of the Race, the new season starts on September 17, three weeks from now. This is the new Sunday timeslot they’re trying out, after chewing up and spitting out timeslots on Wednesday, Thursday and Tuesday. They’re starting in Seattle this time; that’s the roster of 12 teams in the picture above posing at Alki Beach. All the stereotypical teams are present: the Married Parents, the Pretty Boy Studs, the Gay Couple, the Parent/Child, the Dating Bartenders, the Siblings. It’s like they have boxes to fill when they cast this show every year, and they always hit each one. The only one they missed this year was the Old Couple; I guess Fran and Barry broke the mold on that one. The oldest racer this time is 52, barely a whippersnapper.

Apparently they’re “shaking things up” by travelling east-to-west this go-around, rather than the usual west-to-east (or in the case of the Family Edition, generally-around-in-a-circle-with-a-side-trip-to-Panama). This means that from Seattle they’re heading out over the Pacific Ocean, instead of the Atlantic like they usually do. I guess for a show that’s filmed in twelve different countries every year, “keeping it fresh” isn’t much of a challenge.

I’m also noticing a pattern evolving with The Amazing Race, where the odd-numbered seasons are the good ones, and the even-numbered (with the exception of #2) are not so great. It’s like the exact opposite of the Star Trek Curse. So does that mean that #10, which starts in a few weeks, is destined to be a dud? I guess we’ll have to wait until it airs to find out.