Sunday, February 19, 2017

We need a local non profit media entity that replaces the tired old newspaper model and the 'one size fits anyone' algorithm driven future offered by social media



Yea, I said it.  Non Profit local media.

I'm thinking of a mashup, maybe, of TinkerMill (our local makerspace-provides membership/volunteerism) crossed with NPR (provides individual sponsorship and business underwriting).

Why does this matter?  Because our local news just no longer cuts it.  It's not local, it's not community focused and it's gotten to the point where it's close to useless.

Yes, I'm aware that local news products meant to displace existing media has been tried before. Places like the for profit Backfence, funded with millions of dollars, failed.  There are, of course, organizations that are trying to figure this out, but no real solutions seem to have come from it.

Those that are left, objectively, aren't doing a very good job of it.  As an example:  NPR and PBS.  Both are very good at what they do, but, is there an NPR reporter in my home town?  No.  Have they done a story on my home town?  The last one, I think, was in September of last year.  PBS is the same, as are non profit newspaper entities like the Texas Tribune.  Maybe there's a way to leverage them and help them, but they seem to have their hands pretty full right now just making sure they keep their existing funding.

The bottom line is when it comes to state wide coverage: not bad.  Are they in the city council meetings in local municipalities?  Do they show up at key football games of the local AAAA state champ high school teams?  Are they at the school board meetings?  Do they even know my town's got one of the best microbrewery networks in the country?  No way.

I suspect that it's because it's generally been under the watchful eye of existing journalism types and  non profit experts and has tended to repeat the mistakes of the old school models.  Maybe a more local non profit tech focused alternative view can come up with a viable approach.  Mix in the community operated/non profit aspect and it could work.

 Maybe.

After creating the non profit 501(c)3 TinkerMill, and nurturing it, with a great group of co-founders, into being one of the more successful makerspaces in the country with almost 500 members and counting as of early 2017 with a self sustaining membership driven revenue and operations model that's bringing in six figures, more than enough to operate an exceptional space, all focused on our local community, and after having done a few other non-profity things as side projects over the last 25years, most of which did reasonably well, I have to wonder:  Can we create a non profit community focused local newspaper/radio/TV replacement that's also better than being sucked in and consumed by Facebook and it's ilk?

I'm reasonably sure the answer is yes, but, can it be better than what's there now?


TinkerMill taught us quite a bit about how to mobilize and engage different parts of a community.  From residents to government, to business to schools to other non profits and community groups.  It takes many aspects of a local community to create a community resource.

What I really want to do is see if there's a way to replace, or at the very least, seriously augment, the existing local newspaper/radio/tv/social media realm.

In our city, we don't even have a local news radio station or a TV station and the newspaper is owned by a regional entity that's owned by a hedge fund out of New York City that's primary goal is to cut costs and provide the least possible service for the most possible money.  They recently announced that they are moving the entire staff of the Longmont Times Call (about 22 people) out of Longmont to the offices in Boulder.  So, they sit in another city and pump out 2, maybe 3 stories a day (sometimes less) and then reuse stories from other newspapers in the area they own.  If you're working in an office half an hour away from the city you're 'covering', you simply cannot cover that city well.  Not even kind of well.  That's what we, and thousands of other cities across the world, are facing.



Our newspaper is no longer a local municipally focused news source, it's a slowly dying cash machine that's being squeezed dry for every cent of profit possible with no sense of what's important to the local community by these out of state hedge funds that own them.



The current for profit entities such as Facebook, or even smaller startups like NextDoor, which seems to be where many are getting their 'news' now, are a source readers should think long and hard about trusting; they're globally focused for profit companies who make their money off of your personal information, and part of the process is 'building a global newsroom run by robot editors and it's own readers'.  It is, effectively, a blueprint for destroying journalism.  85% of the online ad dollars that once paid for your local newspaper to operate are now sucked up by two companies:  Facebook and Google.  Remember, if the product is "free", you are the product; they're selling your personal information in exchange for these ad dollars.  The news they create?  It's driven by an algorithm; not a human who really knows anything about your local community.

Even Google, with it's Google News product, an excellent source for news, has a 'local' section that's just using an algorithm to aggregate existing mostly for profit news sources that, also, don't really cover local news any more.

There's just not a recipe for an engaged and informed local community media outlet from any of the current for profit entities;  at least, none that I can see.

I'm all for using algorithm's where it makes sense, but, I also think there's a very real need for local human curation of things that touch, well, local humans and the local community they live in.  Most likely, it's a hybrid of both - human curation and smart/useful algorithm's - and driven at a local level, not by a huge 2 billion user silicon valley behemoth.  We can get there, but, we're not there.  Not just yet.

So, maybe, the answer is a non profit that's using humans and technology in smart ways that haven't been tried before at a local level.

Just for fun, I wrote up a quick one pager on what that might look like.

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The Local News Network  (LNN)


"No opinions, politics or religion; just the facts." 
(a pipe dream maybe, but worth a shot)

The purpose of LNN will be to create a non partisan non-profit platform that can be operated within a municipality such as Longmont, CO. and possibly many other cities around the world, that is owned and operated by it's residents as a replacement, or least serious augmentation, of dying for-profit local news entities such as newspapers.  It's delivery will be through website(s), podcasts, online streaming of audio and video using existing technology and distribution platforms such as YouTube, WordPress, Podcasts and other low/no cost open source software solutions as they become available re-purposed to deliver local news to local residents.  Automated distribution to social media networks will also be part of the process.  In addition, we'll explore using localized versions of existing old school media such as a weekly newspaper like the Boulder Weekly and Westword, local LPFM (low power FM) radio stations and local low power TV broadcasting.

AREAS OF COVERAGE- FOCUSED ON A SPECIFIC MUNICIPALITY

  • Economy & Business
  • Education
  • Energy & Environment
  • Government
  • Health & Human Services
  • Law & Order
  • People
  • Politics (without opinion)
  • Race & Immigration
  • Transportation
  • Art and Music
  • Technology
  • Sports
  • Human Interest Stories

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES (ideas only here, many many ways to approach this)


  • An up to date website with all of the above areas of coverage.
  • A weekly paper newspaper, effectively a 'snapshot' of the website printed on paper, distributed to news stands at key positions in town and through memberships. (this may be a really stupid idea, but it's worth investigating, if for no other reason than it's working in some places and it might be a good transitional mechanism for many people).
  • A streaming and podcast driven radio station with member and volunteer provided content focused on local news and events.  If possible, an LPFM (Low Power FM) radio station (depends on availability of licenses).
  • A streaming and podcast driven video station with member and volunteer provided content using, mostly, YouTube initially and expanding to other platforms if needed.  If possible, a low power broadcast TV station (depends on availability of licenses).
  • Automated distribution to relevant social media platforms.
  • Development of tools, both computer and mobile device oriented, that allow the simple and easy creation and operation of this local news network's content and distribution.
  • Simple to use services like a small cheap radio streaming server that costs $150 in hardware and uses free opensource software and that you can set up on your desk and support 100's, potentially thousands, of listeners, simultaneously. 
  • Potentially most important: Archives.  This would be the only real, reliable archive of local news information (starting on day one of it's operation) in the city.  Local for profit newspapers can no longer be depended on to provide this service.  They are deleting old stories from their websites and spotty if not downright derilict in their archiving for long term access our cities news records.  the LNN would be owned by the residents of the city itself.  As long as the community exists and supports it's Local News Network, that information will be available for future reference, and future generations.  No one's doing this now.  No one.  We need to understand out past to understand our future.
  • Many more ideas here, but let's get started first.


STRUCTURE

A non profit 501(c)3

Member's and volunteers provide the majority of content

A strong focus on curation (editorship) of existing available content and the new member/volunteer provided content

Use of existing platforms (exp: YouTube, TuneIn, WordPress) with the philosophy of 'don't reinvent what you don't have to'

FUNDING

LNN should focus on self-sustaining levels of funding from day one (i.e not depend on grants, but still get them as needed to expand).

Membership by local residents and sponsorship by local businesses.

Outside of the local municipality sponsorship and grant funding, mostly for startup and periodic expansion and technology costs.

Crowdfunding - by asking the community for funding, as needed, similar to to the processes you see used by entities like NPR or PBS, to donate monies to operate the day to day business of creating, collecting, curating and distributing local news and information.  This is, to a degree, happening now in Philadelphia with The Inquirer, The Daily News and Philly.com.



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I've been thinking about this issue since the early 90's and quite honestly I'm not sure what the solution is or what the next steps really are.  I am pretty sure that no one else has the exact answer, yet.  Maybe we just need to get it going here in my town and see what happens.  I think it's time to start playing around more seriously with how we do this and one of the best ways to do that is to simply start.

Oddly, www.localnewsnetwork.org was actually available so, I just registered it. (no there's nothing there yet).

But, at least that's a start.


2 comments:

dennis dube said...

My Goddamn Newspaper

As in, "Where's my goddamn newspaper?!"

The "on paper" part is always a problem.

Otherwise, if there was a model where users could 'adopt' a beat -- like Weather, for example -- thinking about Bill Callahan who used to be Boulder's amateur weather expert that Paul Danish and I had in the Boulder Courier -- then a curated-content approach would be appropriate. That's about the technique used by Salon and the rest now.



AndyK said...

One way I think local news can work is by selectively syndicating content from local bloggers and even facebook. It seems that every place has a few dedicated bloggers who cover their pet issues (bike paths, council meetings, sports, etc.), and if you get enough of those stories, you can make a whole. Then there is always stuff on facebook like accidents and traffic backups, almost in real-time. Add in a few dedicated journalists who jump over from the dying local paper (maybe those who want to stay in their hometown and now work from home), and they can do editorial selection and fill in the missing stories.

Looking online I found this: Institute for Non-profit News (inn.org). It looks like they have 3 members in Colorado (https://inn.org/members/?state=CO) and many more across the country. Most of their members probably fall under "independent journalism" (in other words more of a liberal bias) but at least there are a bunch of different models to look at there.