Reuters mobile journalism kit. I really, really want one. Picture: KevGlobal (Flickr)
This post is for the June Carnival of Journalism. Andy Dickinson has posed this question:
Is (digital) journalism better the more local it is and what does that do to growth?
And I’ll attempt to add my views on that question by bringing up an idea that’s been bubbling in my mind the last couple of days. I think this idea will affect growth.
Read on, if you please…
I won’t go into all the reasons why wire services are busted beyond repair. Go and read Flat Earth News.
I also made it perfectly clear — after my time working at Sky News Online — that I think news agency stories should be given the heave-ho. I still stand by that. As Jeff Jarvis has continually said, lets do what we do best, and link to the rest.
Anyway, I left that out there to stew for a while without offering much in the way of a solution to it all. Well now I have an idea.
In New Zealand, the NZ Press Association (NZPA) is in deep, deep trouble. It’s running out of moeny. And with no money, they’ll have no staff. Which, pretty much, is the state most wire services are in now. Minimal staff cover areas far greater than one person can ever cover effectively. Terrible. You can’t turn over well-researched copy when you’re that busy.
Meanwhile, local newspapers everywhere are also running out of money. Reporters are losing jobs left, right and centre. And the lack of adequate pay means good quality local journalists are drifting into the realms of PR. And who can blame them? A stay in one of Auckland’s flashiest waterfront hotels courtesy of Vodafone recently taught me all I need to know about money-printing license many of the top corporations have.
So you’re left to journalists who are not only underpaid, underexperienced and undermotivated, but also overworked: time that should be spent newsgathering is spent dealing with press releases or re-writing wire copy.
Here’s my proposal for how that should change:
Wire 2.0 – the NewsHub
Imagine a service, we’ll call it the NewsHub. The NewsHub acts as a collector of news, gathered in from local reporters up and down the land. It also acts as a distributor of news, sharing it out to other local reporters, who are in turn submitting their own local copy. Big stories will then be shared upwards to the national and international media.
And… that’s it. Simple. The NewsHub concept would improve journalism — both national and local — a thousand times over. Why? Because it will provide capital for more journalists to be hired, and will make it financially viable to send reporters out into the community.
Outlets that opt in to NewsHub would pay a fee — much like they do with current wire services. The difference here, of course, is that the fee would be pooled across the service. The income being spread to local newspapers/websites/whatever on the basis that the more you produce, the more you will earn.
In other words, the more good reporting you do, the more money you will have available to do it. Much like the manner in which a freelance photographer would distribute pictures.
Which would mean good reporters would suddenly become very valuable to local press. It could even mean — gasp — that local media outlets can afford to hire more reporters, knowing that a bigger news-gathering operation could be much more profitable than, say, telling one reporter to write up all those press releases or slave over an advertorial.
Not to mention the positive influence of good, old-fashioned journalism. Imagine a weekly local paper crammed full of insightful reporting, investigations, human interest and community spirit. I know my local papers aren’t doing this at the moment — are yours?
This focus would then filter up and up to the national and international press. ‘Flat Earth News’ stories would be snuffed out and eliminated quickly and effectively. National media could follow leads from local press as to the biggest stories, as local reporters would now be adequately funded to produce 24-hour coverage. They’ll be Twittering, blogging… the whole shebang. And the community will be right in there too, sharing all their content to reporters at a local level who then, through NewsHub, would distribute their content, turning it into what will be a very profitable exercise for all.
We don’t need traditional wire services. They were invented before we could all communicate without help. Example: If an explosion happens in Cambridge, a reporter for the Cambridge Evening News will be right on it. He’ll be monitoring tweets/pictures coming in from the incident. He will report on the situation, and as he does, he’ll be sharing it all via NewsHub. Earning money for the CEN as he goes. At what point does the PA need to be there? It’s a redundant service — only in existence because 1) until now, there hasn’t been a suggestion of an alternative and 2) because editors are too bloody petrified to ditch it. Come on, editors, own up.
As you’ll have noticed, these are skeleton plans at the moment. There is still plenty of thinking to be done, but to return to Andy Dickinson’s question (bet you’d thought I’d forgotten, eh?), by harnessing the power of local digital journalism and turning it into a mutual, lucrative business, local media can grow and grow. Easily. The only limit is in how much brilliant journalism we can, en masse, produce for the benefit of the rest of the world.
Click here to see a Powerpoint presentation (929kb) comparing the old model and the ‘NewsHub’ model (very kindly put together by Jim Tucker).