Is this the future of media?

I had the pleasure yesterday of listening to a podcast where a new local journalistic venture was discussed. (It was from the “Public Eye” programme on CFAX 1070 in Victoria, BC, and the venture takes place in Central Saanich, BC.)

Only local news, only citizen journalists. The publication is edited by the contributors: each has his or her article selected by others for inclusion, edited by others.

A single sheet physical document is printed, for distribution in coffee shops and other gathering places in the community. It is a summary of the week’s articles — and print advertising (classifieds) for the community. Each article points (via QR codes and links) to the full piece on the web.

At the moment they’re doing print with a photo only. Video would not be hard — but the revenue from the classifieds today goes for the editorial coordination and printing the physical version, plus paying for the website. (Yes, it’s in the black, but not by much.)

The creator of this is now also a municipal councillor in Central Saanich. His idea was simple: international, national and provincial news was fairly easy to come by, especially with the Internet. What was very difficult to come by (Central Saanich is a suburb in Greater Victoria) was truly local news. Local newspapers covered too big a region, or didn’t spend enough time on local stories (one reporter might be hired to cover the entire area on all beats). Pages were filled with articles bought in from distribution agents to flesh out a “broader agenda”.

Victoria-based radio and television, in turn, tended only to cover anything local when it was a problem. Air time and reporter constraints meant that most local events simply weren’t on their radar.

His idea is simple. Parents are already at their children’s little league games. Smartphones make taking pictures and videos easy. Those who want to see more coverage of the successes and failures of the Podunk Plodders will be motivated to write the story.

That other contributors (not an all-seeing, all-deciding “editor in chief”) decide which are worthy of the next edition, and that others edit, means that flat-out fluff and puff pieces are kept at bay.

What the editor on the payroll does is enforce standards. Fact-checking. Two sources minimum. Quality control, but not content control.

The “paper” (an entity seen as a web property with print leading you to it — and the print desirable because of the classifieds, mostly selling items, announcing garage sales, offering a basement suite and the like) is used to draw the community together. It also moves the block ads — the business type — to the web portion, making the cost of putting out the physical “draw” piece low enough to be sustained.

What’s happening with this is that more and more of what goes on in the community is exposed, and more connections are made. People with a passion — whether that’s for better gardens, local soccer or more efficient snow ploughing in winter — find each other through the articles and editing process.

The community’s knowledge of its own capabilities, strengths and weaknesses is enhanced. Community networks are formed. Robustness and resilience is growing as a result. So, too, is involvement in the future of the community.

Not bad for a bedroom suburb that spans the highway between the ferry terminal and airport, and the city centre — a “no place” in an urban region that was “too large” (most people identified with a much smaller piece of the municipality) or “too small” (just another chunk of the region as a whole).

There is no reason, of course, why this type of framework couldn’t be used to add podcasts and videocasts as well, thus making for truly local narrowcasts to augment the broadcasting stations.

This is an interesting insight into how a community might keep itself informed and vital, at a time when the economy will be restricting expenditure by existing media companies on local anything.

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