1 Feb 2011

Is Facebook the future of the newspaper?

It is easy to put even new forms of social media into boxes. Twitter good for news. Facebook for friend updates, social games, maybe marketing. But isn’t that just more of the same old thinking? In other words, could Facebook replace the local newspaper?

I worked at a local newspaper in the US for five years, first as a beat reporter then as a regional editor. This gave me a front row seat to the slow implosion of newspaper journalism in the US. Even at my paper, which avoided huge layoffs, reporting slots were constantly lost, even as we were expected - with little strategic thought - to put more news on the web faster and faster.

Yet local news is the one thing that can’t be outsourced to huge conglomerates like Google, right? Even though local newspapers have lost advertising and business space in every conceivable business and journalistic segment - real estate, cars, classified ads, personal ads, national news, international news - there is still no one else to cover the local high school basketball team. There is no one else keeping a watch on the city council, on the school board, or even with community reporters compiling lists of pancake breakfasts at the local volunteer fire station (I know I just dived deep into American, not international, cultural institutions, but I hope you get the idea).

So if local newspapers no longer had the money or the will to dive deep into the local market, I thought Patch.com, from AOL, was a great idea. AOL has hired up to 1000 reporters in the last year, each one attached to a website devoted to a single town or neighborhood. The idea is to make money by scale and going hyperlocal. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong sees local news “as the last great white space” on the internet,
a space still in need of gatekeepers to filter the relevant news for us..


But the thing is, it might not be working. Turns out, not many local news sites have made it,
says the New York Times. And, it turns out, both Yahoo! and Google are moving in on this space, Yahoo! with news aggregation and Google just in ads and recommendations.

Oh, and
according to Ken Auletta in the New Yorker, the Patch content is, ummm, uneven at best.

But the idea I find the most provocative is
this from The Business Insider, that Facebook may already serve as a local newspaper. And sites like Groupon, with their daily coupons, give you a great sense of what to do. From the story:

Patch is supposed to be a local news outlet, but Facebook is already giving people the local news they actually care about. It has the local events Armstrong wants Patch to report, but also observations from friends, and photos that are better than any society pages …

Turns out Facebook is already giving them something that's "good enough" but at even cheaper cost. Facebook has just 2,000 employees to Patch's 800.

It’s just another reminder that communication is changing faster than most of us can keep track of, that our supposedly expert visions of the future may be obsolete by, say, next week.

But at least you can find out about it on Facebook.

Nathan Hegedus

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1 comment:

Pontus Staunstrup said...

An interesting example of "local" news or citizen reporters, that has been very successful, is the South Korean OhMyNews site (http://international.ohmynews.com/about/) They have more than 60,000 correspondents around the world, reporting local news.