The internet has been peppered with hyperbole since the beginning so please allow us to heap some more on. We are undergoing seismic shifts almost daily and this is no more true than with how we get local news. Traditional norms for the flow of information from the local environment to consolidators and ultimately to us is being turned on its head and not a moment too soon. Let’s take a look at how local news is the next shoe to drop to the power of the crowd. In this case, a local crowd.
One of the better books on the social dimensions of recent internet evolution is Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. Combining the anecdotal “Ahah!” moments of books like the Tipping Point with higher level societal forces at work, we recommend it to anyone looking to understand how the internet is transforming how we interact socially. Some of the processes described in the book are starting to make themselved felt in the aquisition and dissemination of local news content and the Zipper app is just a tool in this transformation. Before we look at where things will be, let’s take a look at how they were…for decades.
One of my favorite quotes goes roughly like this, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed as long as you own one”. This was true for roughly the last few centuries (if not longer). The press, whether it’s a large newspaper or your local weekly has been the ultimate arbiter of what’s fit to print and these decisions, however clothed in an air of non-partisan freedom, is made by people. People are notoriously flawed at being impartial so our local news has been equally flawed by default. This control over what you should read has taken a spurious turn over the last few decades no matter political affinity you hold. For one thing, the business of local news (yes, it’s always been a business and a very profitable one until late) has both become consolidated and more corporate in ownership. We’re not implying that this has negatively impacted the quality of local news but we’re willing to bet it hasn’t improved it. With a more pronounced profit motive, an air of sensationalism has also crept (if not lept) into the local news coverage. You’re more likely to see local curios and crime stories than what’s at the root of the crime reported on in detail. That sells papers and they’re in the business of selling papers.
The other main issue with the old world of local news is what ended up on the editing floor (fairly outdated metaphor these days but still cogent for old media buffs). There’s only so much real estate in a given local news paper and even less in the much more expensive world of broadcast news television. This means a great deal of the news that comes into the filter of local news control never makes it out. Perhaps those items were only important to a segment of the population but that still leaves them without the news they find important. There seems to be a disconnect with this type of local news distribution and the needs of those it’s distributed to.
Bring in the Zipper app. Now, the crowd not only becomes the on-location reporter where ever a person may be, but the crowd selects what news is important to him or her. All news comes in and the individual self-filters according to what’s useful and important to that individual. This is a seismic shift away from the top down approach of the last century. Personally, we couldn’t be more pleased. We’re getting pretty tired of the dancing cat article in the living section.