Who needs community news?

Newspaper boxes. (Creative Commons photo by Tom Magliery)

Newspaper boxes. (Creative Commons photo by Tom Magliery)

CraigsList killed the classifieds. But lets face it, they had it coming. The web has taken the conveyance of information out of the hands of a select few and connected people directly with each other.

What’s next? The writing seems to be on the wall for community news — those little announcements and information about the goings-on in town frankly just don’t need newspapers anymore. At least not their online counterparts. There was a time when the local newspaper was really the only way you would find out what was going on around town. Entities like AOL’s Patch have tried to corner the market for this type of information online. But is that really the work we need journalists today to do?

Here’s today’s five posts from the homepage on Shrewsbury Patch:

The five strangest police stories of the year actually sounded interesting. But there was no context. They were one-liners. And I heard more interesting ones just listening to the scanner at the Telegram on Christmas Day (like the woman who complained to police that her husband had been asleep for 12 hours — oh, and that he was a jerk).

As for the rest of the stories, none of them offer any real context. They are, simply, information. And you can get that information anywhere these days. Chances are people in the Paton School community are either on a school email list or following the school’s Facebook page. Many police departments now offer the logs on their websites and the way the logs are printed these day they offer very little information. This is in contrast to several years ago when it took a reporter to go in and copy it for printing in the paper. Trash pickup schedules are on the town’s website.

I don’t want to pick on Shrewsbury Patch here. I can find an equal number of such items on the TelegramTowns site or many other community news sites. But can anyone sustain a business simply replaying information readily available elsewhere? That’s a tough sell.

If it sounds like I’m suggesting we don’t need journalists anymore, I’m not. We need them more then ever. But we need them to deliver context, not just content. The stories we need journalists to tell us are the ones that we can’t find on the town website. And if you’ve got something no one can get anywhere else … well, that sounds like something you can build a business on.

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  • TR in WS

    Agree to some degree. We mix “stories you can’t find anywhere else” with some of the stuff you mention. But you are too quick to dismiss the latter as information that’s “readily available.” For a still-startling amount of people, no, it’s not. It’s buried in a million different places. Bringing it together – I look at about 15 different sites and Facebook pages to pull together a simple “transportation changes etc. for the holiday” type of roundup. My reader has better things to do. Same thing with “who’s open on Christmas Eve for dinner.” It’s worse than ever right now because a lot of businesses aren’t even using their websites – they’re slapping this information up as Facebook statuses, maybe three days before the event, maybe a day before, maybe the day of, but NO rhyme or reason or predictability. Eventually, I’m sure, somebody technically smarter than me will come up with a coherent system that will make all this information easy to find, logically catalogued, etc. Right now, the system is me and the people who work for me. Inbetween some semi-investigative journalism, like two days ago when I had to go downtown to dig through an analog file of documents to confirm a semi-bombshell about a much-watched local project. Funny thing is, the nearest newspaper is getting fluffier, even as we get more serious … 

  • http://www.BehindTheHeadlinesBlog.com Noah R. Bombard

    I agree. And I’m probably hitting this point a little harder than needed. But I do believe that when looking to the now and the future, you’ve got to have something more than just a central place for information culled from other sites. West Seattle Blog has more than that. And you also have to look at what a specific community has for online resources and how web and mobile savvy the residents in that area tend to be. Not every place is the same. 

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