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Local News for the Global Age

Unless we collectively can figure out how to leverage technology to sustain local reporting, the global potential of the worldwide web will remain under-realized.

Why? Because, all news is local, to paraphrase/mangle longtime Speaker of the House "Tip" O'Neil's most famous statement about politics.

Everything happens somewhere, and when it comes to news, place matters -- a lot. What I have been trying to figure out these past few months is how the "hyper-local" services we've covered here --, Topix, and -- can be fused onto what remains of the newspaper industry to resuscitate journalism on the community level.

A key figure has always dominated the traditional news business -- as portrayed in fiction (in this case, TV), it was Lou Grant, the head of the newsroom. He or she went by a variety titles -- Editor in Chief, News Director, Managing Editor, City Editor, (since 1995) Content Chief, or simply, "Boss," but this person has always set the tone for a media organization's coverage.

Furthermore, since the news industry has traditionally had a proletarian, mentor-apprentice business model, these authority figures played a central role in developing and training each new generation of journalists. Standards, ethics, methodologies were handed down from mentor to apprentice. Ask any journalist today who her mentors were, and she'll tick off some names for you in an instant.

In today's online media industry, many organizations tend to be flat. Plus, there is a certain skepticism of the human factor that is palpable around the likes of Google News and other technology companies. There, the algorithm reigns supreme.

I like to think of the human editor in these types of organizations as working in the gray matter zone, where algorithms end and the human brain begins. Therefore, the new community journalism model I imagine would reintroduce the mentor to his new apprentices, that army of citizen journalists emerging through the services mentioned above, through blogs and other channels, to help set the tone for the work of covering a community honestly and credibly, and how to sort the rumors from the facts.

Am I a hopeless romantic, who watched way too many old TV shows and movies (like The Front Page, my personal favorite) in my youth?

I hope not. We still have several generations of well-trained journalists, many of whom are, or soon will be, seeking work. We could put them all to work, operating as local "hubs" in the communities where they live, helping organize and professionalize the citizen journalism that is emerging on all sides.

Then, if that works out, maybe we could shoot a popular TV show...on YouTube, of course.

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