New York Times made mention this weekend of a particularly interesting project in the Czech Republic. Google is providing local staff to train reporters in one hyperlocal news network in the use of services like Google Maps, Google Translate and YouTube.What can be done to help professional news organizations survive in this internet era? The
An Amsterdam based holding company called PPF and the Paris based World Association of Newspapers are funding a fascinating project that will launch 30 different websites covering hyperlocal news throughout the Czech Republic. Google will provide technical training and the sites will run AdSense in exchange. In order to maximize contact with the local community, the project has hired 90 mostly young reporters who will work out of offices with public coffee and internet shops built into the facilities.
Will this idea work? Who knows, but it sure sounds like a fun experiment. There are lots of different factors at issue, not the least of which is the hyper-local nature of the news being reported. Eric Pfanner in the Times says "think garbage collection schedules, not Group of 7 diplomacy."
The idea brings to mind the Lawrence Journal World, a well known model of effective local online reporting. If Google and other online specialists could help more newspapers rock like LJWorld.com does, then things could really look up for local news.
To be fair, some people attribute LJWorld's success to its local near monopoly across different media types - but the company has been wildly innovative in terms of types of content, interactivity, mobile and the creation of a content management system (Django) that is now used by newspapers around the world. The company even offers an RSS feed of their most-clicked classified ads and displays those in a widget throughout the site. That's cool. Anyone interested in local news online should make sure to spend some time looking around the website of the Lawrence Journal World.
Do You Think the Web Industry Has An Interest or Obligation in Helping Old Models of Reporting Transition Online? RSS readers can click here to view and participate in our poll on that question.
Why not have web specialists offer training to more old fashioned news organizations in order to create a more compelling product? This morning I was watching a trailer for an immersive multiplayer game about to launch and thought: lots of people are willing to pay $20 to $50 once or as a subscription for these really compelling game experiences - couldn't the news organizations of the future better leverage the internet to create an experience that people would pay for? Either pay for or view advertisements through? From games to iPhone apps to really useful software otherwise, I know I'm willing to pay for things. The local news rag just doesn't do anything moving enough for me to pay for it, other than a weekend print edition that I have delivered to my house. Their website certainly isn't interesting enough to visit.
Be it through subscriptions, micropayments or advertising, this whole historic dilemma of the death of newspapers, local news and investigative reporting sure seems like it would be a different scenario if the news producers just made a more compelling product. Our expectations are higher these days because we have the internet. So make something awesome that takes advantage of all this technology. (Granted, this doesn't take into account the reticence of local advertisers to buy online. That's not the only problem newspapers are facing, though.)
Programs that put technical specialists into the newsroom to teach technical skills sound like a great avenue to explore. It would be good to see Google's program in the Czech Republic expand outside of that country and for other vendors to be offering similar services. Let's see a Vimeo Professional Services. Reddit is used by papers but not nearly as well as it is on Reddit.com. How many microblogging services could do themselves and the local paper a lot of good with some symbiosis through training services? I think this is a very interesting idea.
For more on this general topic, I'm going to listen to this collection of podcasts by Dave Winer and NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen, titled Rebooting the News.