Adventures in localism
From journalism students to top editors, the issue of local coverage has frequently been debated. But for large news outlets, it’s a pretty big challenge: they need to cater to the local crowd but also need to brisng awareness of events and issues beyond the metropolitan area. It’s a delicate balance, but in an effort to remain significant and buck the newspaper industry’s slow decline, a few of the nation’s largest papers are giving it a college try.
Recently, the New York Times launched a local edition called the Bay Area Report along with a blog called the Bay Area in San Francisco. The Times’ San Francisco staff, led by Felicity Barringer, is heading up coverage, although the Times may dedicate a staff solely to the section in the future. The blog’s daily Sampler features New York Times stories from the region as well as articles from competitors such as the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times. Story updates, meeting times, and highlights from print Bay Area Report stories are included. The Bay Area blog also keeps up with an extensive blog roll with recognized news blogs and smaller personal projects.
As blogging has given readers an in-depth view of cities and their small neighborhoods, the call for relevant, local news has amplified in recent years. The New York Times will soon launch a similar local edition in Chicago, with the help of the newly formed Chicago News Cooperative (CNC). The CNC plans to provide news and commentary to the Chicago region through its own Web site and through collaborations with the city’s news organizations. The New York Times is the CNC’s first customer, and former Chicago Tribune managing editor James Warren will contribute a regular column for CNC that will appear in the Times’ Chicago pages.
Disputing fears that the New York Times is encroaching on the local coverage of hometown papers, Content Bridges analyst and blogger Ken Doctor wrote that the New York Times launch in San Francisco was a bright idea. “Why not start with the Bay Area, a highly educated, affluent, now under-served market?” he wrote, citing shrinking newsrooms at the Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle. The local pages offer something more to Bay Area Times subscribers, and the foray into local and hyperlocal news keeps the paper relevant, as readers seem to desire a mix of local, national, and international news in one edition. Creating partnerships, whether it is with local writers on a blog roll or with a reporting group like CNC, can be the key to keeping up with the demand for local news.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s local coverage is a work in progress. Its print and online local weekly Extra sections were replaced this fall with a customizable local news homepage and a new weekly Local Living tabloid section. As the Washington Post moves toward an integrated print and online news operation, it seeks to provide a “comprehensive, all-local online destination for the Washington-area audience,” according to a press release. Readers can choose between a “national” or “local” homepage and can tailor their news content further by region or topic. Readers aren’t latching on too quickly, however, as evidenced by an online chat with local editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Local Living editor Liz Seymour. Several participants in the chat noted that the new Local Living section, which appears on Thursdays, looks like an advertising supplement. Seymour responded that the new section combines the former Home section with the local Extras with increased local news and consumer information.
Like the New York Times’ Bay Area blog roll, the Washington Post’s Web Buzz highlights local blogs as they are updated. Locals can submit their blog for inclusion in the blog directory, creating a network of news and commentary that can fill in where the Post’s coverage falls short in the wake of multiple rounds of staff buyouts. The directory can be browsed by neighborhood or topic.
Lately, journalist types have been discussing the lengthy article, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” by Washington Post veteran Len Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review this month. According to the report, “credible independent news reporting” requires various news outlets in order to survive. As major metropolitan newspapers shrink, that independent, original reporting must be preserved, regardless of medium or profit margin.
The Washington Post and the New York Times probably aren’t going to make any money by linking to local blogs, but it’s an olive branch for the reader who might feel left out due to the shortage of local reporting. The blending of print and online localism is fresh and will take some tweaking over time, especially in the case of the Post’s vocal readership. But you can’t fault these news organizations for trying.
— Lisa Rowan
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