Good News for Journalism? Young People Looking to Internet for Local Happenings

The other day I was watching the movie Moneyball. Besides being one of my favorite sports movies (if not my favorite of all time), the movie explained the importance of businesses adapting to their environment.

Towards the end of the movie, the protagonist, Billy Beane was offered a job to be the Red Sox’s general manager. He told the Red Sox owner “adapt or die”. The Red Sox told Beane that Beane did what the Yankees did at a fraction of the cost. Beane eventually turned down the job, but he changed the standard in how baseball worked.

Beane transformed the Athletics — a small market team that constantly had their players turn down the Athletics’ offers for offers from larger market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox — into a winning team using the Bill James model.

The Bill James model, or sabermetrics, is a model that uses statistics and complex algorithms in order to get the most value out of a player, or investment. This system can involve players that other teams passed on, making their stock low and making the risk of signing that player also low. It’s basically counting cards in a casino.

But the point I wanted to stress was that the Red Sox owner told Beane that his knowledge, risk-taking and skill would get him a lot of opposition. This was because Beane threatened the structure of baseball and how baseball had been for over 150 years. Being the first person through the door is tough because you have few people on your side and the whole establishment looking to discredit you.

This is what the field of journalism has turned into. A lot of the establishment media have invested their whole careers into the old structure of business: ads, subscriptions and print. But this obviously isn’t working. There are a host of factors affecting the structure of journalism. Citizen journalists/bloggers, niche media, sound bites, social media, an emphasis on video production, the Wall Street effect (i.e., media companies being used as a way to increase profits and stock value as opposed to focusing on sound journalism), sensationalism, LOL Cats, the shaky economic system and overall apathy among young people are all factors that have led to the degradation of the profession.

Some recent findings by the Pew Research Center show that there may be a glimmer of hope for local news, but not necessarily papers though. While 72% of Americans follow local news closely, only 32% of local new enthusiasts said it would impact them drastically if their local paper went out of business. To be clear, this isn’t 32% of Americans, but this number represents people who are already enthused about local news which is probably a small number to begin with.

But among young news consumers, they get their local news information from the Internet. Young news consumers use the Internet for eight out of the 16 local topics when asked about their consumption habits. The eight topics young consumers searched for on the Internet were local bars, restaurants & clubs, local businesses, schools, local politics, jobs, housing, art and community events.

I personally use my Twitter lists for local politics, the club scene and local events (let’s not even discuss using any tool to find a job these days…). But the major message from this research is that people want to go to one place to find out what’s going on. Nobody wants to waste time and have to go to 10 different places just to find out about what is going on in their community. We should all be aware of a person’s attention span these days. If a website takes over two second to load, people generally lose interest and go somewhere else for their information.

So why do establishment papers and online media outlets continue to forget about this? The short answer is that the establishment is afraid to let go of a structure that is not built for the future. There is also shortage of skills new graduates have. Some graduate don’t even know what skills they need because the environment is so confusing. The answer is to let new minds and new entrepreneurs into the game, but that would be too easy.

Papers and media outlets need employees and researchers that cover all of the topics listed above. We need people and journalists to be involved in their communities, particularly people who have grown up or lived in these communities. But still, most communities lack a paper or anything that discusses what goes on in their neighborhood. This has to change and I think Patch is a good start. Say what you want about Ms. Huffington, but she’s onto something.

So the question is, how can we get people to be interested in their communities again? Personally, I think people are already getting more involved at the local level partly because of the economic situation. People understand that corporatism, central banks and attention to national issues are leading to the atrophy of community involvement. Just look at how many people are going to farmers’ markets and investing in credit unions.

Let’s figure out how to reach this audience in new ways. Let’s put our resources to use and spend less, while getting the most out of our investments (not just new reporters, but the people who consume information). Like Beane said, “Adapt or die”.

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