The New York Times article published April 12 ‘Hyperlocal’ Web Sites Deliver News Without Newspapers chronicles the idealised dream of robots amassing neighbourhood news using feeds from authorities such as government agencies and police. A bunch of start-ups are pushing the envelope on hyperlocal news, mashing citizen journalism and bloggers to produce a real-time feed of community life. The jury is well and truly out on how effective this type of coverage will be – but it is an interesting experiment that challenges to some degree traditional models of journalism.
In some ways the environment is right for these start-ups. In the last several years, neighborhood blogs have sprouted across the country, providing the sites with free, ready-made content they can link to. And new tools, like advanced search techniques and cellphones with GPS capability, help the sites figure out which articles to show to which readers in which neighborhoods.
A cautionary word for the unwise and unwary. The most credible information may not be the police statistics supplied by the police department, as the people of New York know only too well. The New York Times ran many a Page One article on the topic.
Crime has been dropping dramatically for the past six years, to the lowest level since the 1960′s, when the late-20th-century crime wave exploded in the United States. But now charges are being raised that police commanders in several cities have falsified their crime statistics to keep up with the nationwide decline, and this is raising concern that some crime data may be skewed.
In the past few months, senior police officials have been demoted or forced to resign because some crime statistics were manipulated in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Boca Raton, Fla. New York Times
Likewise, any government information in just about any form has the word SPIN welded on.
Imagine how delighted these spin doctors must be, knowing that their information will be dispersed so widely, so easily, with nary a question or challenge before it is devoured by a reader or amplified by a community of bloggers addicted to almost mindless linking and retweeting. A far cry from the newsroom wastepaper basket where so many “press releases” usually end up. Now, this is not a rejection of citizen journalism and the exciting future of data transparency. No way. This is a call to action: to be on the lookout for the spam of misinformation that will swirl about as robots, not people, become the information spine for new era local news portals.
It will be a rare breed of journalist that can interrogate an rss feed about the reliability of its sources!