Mass media has a bad rep. Common complaints protest bias, misrepresentation, selective coverage, and sensationalism. Ironically, many veteran journalists and newsreaders feel the same way about blogs. When the Seattle P-I closed its doors, many long-term subscribers feared they would lose an important voice for democracy but ignored the numerous neighborhood bloggers putting fingers to keyboard to report their local beats. To many, media sources have been polarized into two undesirable camps: mass media and hyper-local blogs. As a species, we fear change, and why not? It takes precious time to adapt and collect information when you’re used to getting it thrown at your doorstep every day. Having to find the news online and knowing who to trust is a different story.
At the recent Journalism That Matters conference, journalists from new and old media sources weighed in on the future role of mass media and hyper-local blogs. At times, it was clear that journalism had taken on an impending climate-change tone, as many attendees want to know how to create “sustainable news ecology." Many wanted to know in what direction could mass media and hyper-local journalism work together to serve their communities with integrity, transparency, and accountability? Turns out, there is a vital symbiotic role that both these large and small news sources can play for serving the public good. Dale Steinke of King 5 TV and blogger at Phinneywood.com hosted this topic in a well-attended breakout session. Writers and media people from both mass and local media turned up in numbers to network and discuss the possibilities.
Over the course of the discussion several key take-aways came up:
- Information exchange between blogs and mass media needs fluidity and clear channels.
Bloggers lamented they did not have ready access to the same information that mass media did, like official city policy documents and ordinances for example. Mass media could make access to this information to bloggers who can take the time to comb through the paperwork and inform local communities on items that may apply directly to them. Likewise, news items on the local scale can seem insignificant to bloggers but could reveal larger trends in the city when aggregated by a mass media outlet. John Hammer, of the Washington News Council, explained that 99 percent of the tips that come into a mass media outlet are rarely covered and could be passed to the appropriate neighborhood blog. Everyone agreed to improve communication and information sharing.
-Mass media can take over important long-term stories that local bloggers do not have the resources or time to cover.
Investigative journalism takes time and money. Neighborhood blogs are often a labor of love with many bloggers working day jobs with no means to cover long extensive stories. With fluid information streams, mass media could look into bigger stories and credit the bloggers who tipped them off.
- Hyper-local blogs can help rebuild trust and local flavor for mass media, while enjoying the legitimacy from being associated with a mass media outlet.
One participant felt that over the years, mass media in Seattle had given up on covering local issues because topics like city council decisions about sewer and water were not considered lucrative to advertisers. She felt mass media did not care about her community and relies solely on her neighborhood blog for relevant news. Part of the trust that bloggers earn comes directly from living in and experiencing the same communities that their readers do. Present neighborhood bloggers, including Amy Duncan of mygreenlake.com, suggested various partnerships where mass media could support local bloggers with ad sharing or sharing the business skills to run a successful news source. Mutual support could also come from linking core news websites to local blogs and vice-versa thereby helping to provide lucrative clicks and page views.
All in all, through mutual respect, bloggers and mass media have a lot to learn from one another. As one blogger put it, “ Hyper-local blogs can give mass media a heart. Mass media can give blogs legitimacy.”
Nina Carduner is an actor and activist living in the pacific northwest. She is also a first year MBA student at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute for sustainable business. You can find her blog at greenergoose.com.