85.7 F
San Fernando
Monday, Aug 8, 2022
-Advertisement-

Community Journalism Enters an Experimental Phase

During a recent Society of Professional Journalists event about hyper-local journalism, one word kept being repeated over and over – experiment. Gathered at a room at Southern California Public Radio were the folks behind some of these experiments. These bloggers and journalists work in old and new media to tell the stories not of national or international importance but from specific communities and cities in the Los Angeles area. These “fragments of life,” said Ron Kaye, the former editor of the Daily News, are the new journalism. The means to get these fragments before readers and listeners is through traditional print newspapers, online news and information sites, online radio stations, or a combination of television plus online. While the speakers taking part in this discussion agreed on why they do what they do – to serve areas that big media has abandoned as budgets and staff shrink – there was no consensus on how long some hyper-local news sites will last and what their influence will be. “It is a labor of love; a product of passion,” said Michael Linder, who runs an online radio station covering Venice. “Institutions (big media) will continue to carry on because they are so entrenched and their brands are so strong. But they will be surrounded by a swirling sea of sites, bloggers and tweeters who will come and go.” What makes outlets like Linder’s and others experimental is that no model has yet emerged to make them into sustainable businesses. While at the San Jose Mercury News during the 90s, Chris Jennewein saw the experimentation taking place in Silicon Valley as search engine after search engine took to the Web, with many not surviving more than a few years. It was thought the business of search engines was dead until Google came along. Experimentation, Jennewein summed up, comes out good in the end. Patch As the representative on the panel for the news and information network Patch.com from AOL, Jennewein is now part of online media’s version of what he saw take place in Silicon Valley. Patch sites made their appearance in the Los Angeles area within the past six months. In the Valley, there are Patch sites for six communities. Opinions vary on what AOL is doing. Patch, said Kaye, was the most complex and well financed experiment in journalism. Timothy Rutt, who operates the AltadenaBlog.com site, was offered and turned down the editor position for Patch site to cover that unincorporated community. What his site offers is the ability for local residents to take ownership in the stories to be reported and to ask their own questions. An AOL franchise cannot do that, Rutt said. Sherman Oaks resident Zach Behrens was editor of the LAist website before moving to KCET to run the station’s blogging operations. The Sherman Oaks Patch site was “fascinating,” Behrens said, while others in the Valley didn’t match up. The ability of Patch sites to draw in interesting stories was likely reflective of the editor of that site, Behrens added, and the sustainability of Patch depends on who AOL hires. The human element in this great experiment is not discounted, with the Patch editors considered to be the most important staffers as they maintain the websites and post the content sales force can monetize, Jennewein said. The risk of being so focused in a coverage area is blandness in the stories. The right guidance and goals can keep Patch from going that route, Jennewein said. “If I don’t see a serious story a couple times a week I think there is something wrong,” he added. Some potential I look at multiple Patches on a daily basis but don’t often click on stories posted at those sites. I scan those sites covering Valley neighborhoods to keep up on what else is being reported. The Hollywood Patch site, on the other hand, I take a more personal interest in because I am as curious as the next person about what is going on where I live. Hollywood Patch went active at the end of December so it may be jumping the gun to critique what is still a work in progress. A venture like this has great potential and it shouldn’t be squandered. After getting off to a strong start with coverage of a murder and the film school vs. farmer’s market controversy, Hollywood Patch has gone down the road of blandness that Jennewein said can be avoided. Yes, there has been hard news at the site but it’s sporadic. Much of the site’s content is light features and feel good stories about owners reunited with their missing pets. That’s nice and all but being an alternative news source will take more. A good place to start is employing good old fashioned shoe-leather reporting. And that goes for any hyper-local media outlet. Nothing beats walking the streets to find out what is going on. In early January a notice went up on a property in Hollywood for a hearing on a proposed “affordable living” apartment project but Patch wouldn’t write about it until the issue came before a neighborhood council. I still have yet to read anything about how one of the largest retailers at the Hollywood & Highland complex closed and its second floor space replaced by a traveling museum exhibit. Both of the examples cited above could be starting points for analytical stories that get beneath the surface – just how is “affordable living” defined in Hollywood; and what doest it mean when H&H landlord CIM Group fills a retail space with a non-retail use. I believe in the community journalism and storytelling. After all, it’s where I got my start. That newspaper, The Landmark, was itself an experiment in that it challenged the monopoly of a twice-weekly newspaper. And it was an experiment that worked as 25 years later The Landmark is still publishing. I’d like to be able to say the same of all the other hyper-local experiments out there. Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com

-Advertisement-

Featured Articles

-Advertisement-
-Advertisement-

Related Articles

-Advertisement-
-Advertisement-