“Mobile changes everything” is now a cliche that is old and tired as I am after a redeye. But that doesn’t make it less true. Mobile is asking as to rethink our assumptions about how we live, work, shop, entertain and inform ourselves. The pocketable computers with invisible connections to “the network” has made it possible for a four-year-old Uber to upend the century-old taxicab business. Today, Amazon’s apps are threating Macy’s. We are using our iPhones as blood pressure machines. And we are just getting started.
Perhaps that is why it is time to rethink what it means to be a local media entity. So far, Local News has been nothing but a chimera, a graveyard of reputations and incinerator of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why did the world need Patch? Well, because we wanted to re-create old local papers on the web, but with fewer overheads and small news staffs that were paid like serfs. Today I read about the “corporate-pr posing as brand journalism” in places like Richmond, California.
No one has stopped and asked the question why do we need a newspaper style entity. Do we need local news when most people crave local information that is relevant and realtime? In this age of selfies, social and photo sharing, why not thinking about local information differently where locals engaged on the platform and provided updates that might be useful only in local context. Traffic jam on a busy street is a photo and a short SMS-length update. The news of a new restaurant can be shared as a photo and a few tips — recommendations that apps like Foursquare have already popularized.
I think the future of local news is very different than its past. It is less about newspapers, and more about platforms that connect. Today, news of fire in San Francisco comes over Twitter and while it is useful to those of us in South of Market Area, it can get lost in the unending wave of tweets. What if that information could be shared and given a local context by using the location beacons for geo-fencing.
In Roman times, there was a Praeco, a Newsreader or a senate crier who would announce daily the pronouncements of the Senate, public service announcements, business advertisements, and the current events of the Republic to the people in the Forum, or the town square. We have similar people in villages in different cultures. What mobile and technology enables us is to have a platform that plays a similar role where we the citizens are sharing the news. It is a Reddit style entity with communication at its core core, a platform where local politicians and city halls use the service to issue updates that impact their community. Or community shares the news as it happens and talks about it. It is not a social network, but more a social space.