Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yankees Revenge Fantasy: Hyperlocals and the Boston Globe

Print media is suffering.  The New York Times ran an article yesterday entitled, In Boston, Paper's Peril Hits a Nerve.  In order to survive, the Boston Globe needs to re-tool.  The paper is projected to lose $85 million this year.

Right next to the Globe article, the Times printed News Without Newspapers.  The story profiled the rise of "hyperlocals."  These websites publish "news near you," articles about the neighborhood.  Problems at the local diner.  Items of interest if you're in the area.

Hyperlocal reporting can be spotty as bloggers move from one coffee shop to the next, laptops and digital cameras in tow.  There's no quality control over the writing or content.  Do we really care if somebody unearths an old cow bell in their basement?  Hyperbolic I know, but you get the point.  Niche sites, some venture capitalists believe, may be the next wave for garnering ad revenues.

The placement of these two articles—I measured half an inch between them—strikes me as darkly ironic.  Twelve days ago the Times threatened to sell its stake in the Globe.  It may shutter the Boston operation if no buyers show.  Is the hyperlocal article a warning to Globe executives who, no doubt, read what their owners report?

See what happens if you're not profitable.

It's spring.  We're a few games into the start of baseball season.  The two articles conjure up the ultimate revenge fantasy.  Yankees fans are still smarting from the 2004 playoffs, still feeling a dull ache from that unlikely rally by the Red Sox.  Perhaps the layout in yesterday's Times was retribution. 

Hey, Red Sox fans.  Get your box scores from drunk bloggers camped out in the Fenway bleachers.

The potential failure of venerable publications, from the Boston Globe to the struggling Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is no laughing matter.  We depend on seasoned reporters to ferret out information.  They break stories, I like to think, in a responsible and professional manner.  

How can we transfer knowledge if we can't pay people to unearth it? 

The Internet is the most powerful delivery system in the history of mankind.  It accelerates the flow of information into our homes.  Never before has there been such a powerful carriage of knowledge.

The impact on reliability, however, has been less spectacular.  It's still expensive to research and write stories.  One school of Internet thought argues we are all reporters.  We watch events around us.  We break stories that keep the world honest and informed—Twitter style.  I don't buy it.  You know what they say.

You get what you pay for.

Consider our financial news.  I've been following Bernie Madoff, Swiss Banks, and financial scandals on my blog:  www.acrimoney.com.  I appreciate reporters.  They spend their days on the front lines, researching and writing as only they can.  The last I checked, for example, it's a career-limiting gesture to blog about your employers.  In the absence of professionals, I fear the Internet will become the world's most powerful vehicle for delivering...well...garbage.

Last I checked, we pay to haul rubbish away.

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