Thursday, August 17, 2006

To Tune or to Surf, That is the Question

How many people still watch the evening news? It's a good question. With the increased presence of localized blogs, it's possible that many of the 6 o'clock news ratings may be the result of leaving the television on while cooking in the kitchen.

Marketwatch's Jon Friedman said that the blog is making consistent impact in local news coverage - even in Antarctica (although, a bit of a recommendation for those of you at McMurdo Station - don't title your entries, "Snow and Boredom.") With the kind of on-the-ground, update-from-a-WiFi-hotspot access, local bloggers are definitely making an impression.

But will they stand on their own?

Although local blogs can be updated at any time, it doesn't look like they'll be offering any more use than the local "community" channel that schoolchildren watch for snow days (if you're from the Northeast, that is). Sure, local blogs have flavor, pictures, and a voice, but their audience can't be as generalized as the local news is. In the restless world of internet surfing, I can't imagine reading something as general as a local news broadcast.

To boot, the experience is different: with the local news on in the central room of a family house, even if a (for example) teenager isn't interested in watching the news on a regular basis (or at all), if they "hear" something important - a crime near their high school, etc. - they'll pay attention. A computer screen can't offer the same communal experience.

Not to mention that if one were to read such an event occurring on a blog - would it be true? (Hopefully.) Would the police cooperate with a blogger? (Doubt it.) Would everything be written neutrally? Well no - it's a blog, you read it for the voice. So while I can read all about a local community board meeting on Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, I'm fairly certain that I won't get the full picture of what happened, much less neutrality. But entertainment? No doubt.

It's clear to me that a local blog offers me true local flavor - but I don't think I'll be waiting for the next Matt Drudge of the neighborhood to pop up anytime soon. Until then, I'll leave the final say to the broadcasters.


Lisa said...

I don't think placeblogs compete with local newspapers. They're about the lived experience of the place, and while some of that lived experience is going to coincide with subjects covered by a traditional newsroom, much of it isn't.

As I often say when I speak to journalists: Placeblogs aren't crappy newspapers -- they're a different genre.

Ideally, what I'd like to see is newspapers take advantage of placeblog-like initiatives to wrap a community around their paper online. Maybe this will arrest the dramatic decline in circulation that's a fact of life for many local newspapers, and reinvigorate those papers.

Another thing to note is that a lot of placeblogs are located in places where there's not a lot of news. People often ask me, well, aren't you going to run out of news to write about? I say, "If Watertown had a lot of *news,* I'd have to move!"

You make an interesting point about the communal experience that's created inside a household with television. Something I hadn't thought about before.

The Editorialiste said...

I agree, Lisa. I don't think it's a direct comparison and it's certainly not reason to get up in arms for anything between the two.

Many journalists feel that blogs are journalism 2.0 - I think that, reading Gawker defend itself every week, it's hard to believe that it's anything more than a technology. The writing is what dictates its content!

I like your suggestion to have a community section in the paper. It might stir up excitement to have a neighbor make the paper and tell a quaint story or event that the journalist couldn't cover. With local papers refocusing on their local coverage to survive, this could be a valuable component, though I don't think it itself is a lifesaver.

You make a fabulous point about placeblogs in non-news areas (you're right, the content never stops as long as you yourself are there). The Antarctic one is a fine example of a remote placeblog, although I wish they'd write like they knew so many people were reading it!