Can local news be crowdsourced?
I wrote earlier this year about the difficult challenges facing the proposed local tv stations that are popping up throughout Britain. The challenge can best be summed up by the pothole paradox. This explains the difficulties caused by the very local sense of what is news. A pothole at the end of my street for instance is newsworthy to me, but not to the vast majority of other people in London, or even in Southwark. When demands are so intensly local, is it possible to provide any kind of news service?
The concept of crowdsourced news has been in the spotlight recently given the well publicised contributions towards both reporting and indeed making the news of the Boston bombing. Those efforts have been widely scrutinised, and had positive and negative elements to it. As a method of delivering local news it is possibly a little too anarchic to ever really work.
A potential half way house between a mainstream news outlet and the free for all of Twitter is being launched later this year however. It’s called Haverhill Matters and is part of the Banyan Project that was founded by veteran journalist Tom Stites. The project aims to service communities that aren’t currently well served by the mainstream media. Haverhill is such a community. It has 61,000 residents and lies on the Merrimack River, in New Hampshire.
The publication will have two full-time employees: an executive director and an editor. The rest of the work will be done by a combination of freelancers, local bloggers and interns. Whilst the Haverhill area does have a weekly newspaper, it is not deemed to represent the area well, with locals believing that the owners of those papers are not sufficiently local to cover the area well.
Can Haverhill Matters fill the gap? Time will tell. The paper will use a co-operative model, with the management hoping to attract 1,500 members paying $36 a year. This revenue will combine with advertising and grant money to cover operating costs. If all goes to plan, the paper will break-even in around 2 and a half years.
If the project goes well then Stites hopes to use it as a template to offer similar style co-operative news ventures to other communities looking to open up their own news sites. If nothing else it will certainly provide an interesting experiment into alternative methods of finding and delivering local news.