Don’t Ask How to Save the Globe, Ask How to Replace It

This morning the Boston Business Journal reported that the Boston
Foundation is discussing
ways to help finance The Globe if it is shut
down by The New York Times
. It's a little unclear what the nature of
the conversations are, but they seem to reflect the gist of
conversations
happening in public on the web: "Quick — the sky is
falling! How can we save the Globe?!?"

This is the wrong approach.

We shouldn't be asking how to save The Globe, we should be asking how we'll build its replacement.

The Globe has served us for years, but its financial dysfunction is staggering. It doesn't work any more. Period.

Instead of trying to prop up this dying system, our community needs to
come up with new ways to make information public, share it and discuss
it.

We're already seeing online substitutes for some pieces of The Globe.
Red Sox commentary is ubiquitous, sites like Blue Mass Group have rich
political discourse and there is a fair amount of local arts coverage
on the web. Of course, it's not clear what will replace The Globe's
hard news and investigative journalism. I believe there will be less
need for original hard news reporting as primary sources do the
reporting themselves
, but there will still be a big hole, without a
clear way to fill it.

There is one thing we can do: Experiment.

Instead of pouring one huge
chunk of money into The Globe, The Boston Foundation should fund
community news experiments. They should fund people like Adam Gaffin
who are highlighting local blogs, sites like Somerville Voices that are organizing community discussions and local versions of the Sunlight Foundation that are helping make government data public.

The Knight Foundation's News Challenge is a great model for this approach. If the Boston
Foundation started giving away grants to creative
local news experiments, their inboxes would be stuffed with great
ideas.

We're in the midst of a revolution. Blood is being shed. It's nasty out there.

The
good news is that once we get through this rough patch, we're going to
have an information ecosystem that is far richer, more diverse and
more truthful than the one we have now. I'm looking forward to it.

P.S. If this issue is important to you, these recent posts by Clay Shirky and Steven Johnson are required reading.

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Your New Neighborhood Newspaper? Soon, a Real Estate Site.

Picture 6
One of these days smart real estate folks are going to start turning their websites into local news sites.

It will help them with their SEO.

And it will help create the kind of community people want to live in.

Paul Roetzer, founder and president of PR 20/20, is headed in this direction with a project he's working on in Cleveland.

It's a downtown development called The Avenue District. Its
website has a blog, videos and lots of updates on the neighborhood and construction.

It's a great start. I hope they do keep going.

They could talk more about what's happening in the neighborhood outside the development. They could talk about local politics, community development, education, small businesses and on and on.

It could become a veritable hyperlocal blog.

If they create a useful, vital neighborhood site — something that people rely on like the Davis Square Live Journal or Baristanet — the site will get
inbound links, and it will rise in the search results. The development and the community will thrive.

Real Estate folks will doubt such a site is worth the investment; newspaper folks will
doubt its quality.

But it makes sense.  Sooner or later, it will happen.
And it will be a good thing.

A World in Which City Councilors Blog

"What about unbaised reporting?"

That’s what a good friend asked a few weeks ago as I was explaining the vision underlying 9Neighbors.

We’re
building 9Neighbors for a world in which city councilors blog,
community activists promote their agenda on YouTube (er, Seesmic), and
mothers publish photos from the sidelines of their kids’ soccer games.

9Neighbors will help community members find the best of all this new local media.

As
I explained our vision, my friend, a journalist, saw a catch: If the
articles, photos and videos through which a community learns about
itself come directly from that community, the information will be
biased.

That’s true, and it would be a problem if these articles, photos and
videos were traditional news reports. But they’re not. They’re
conversation, and in conversation we call bias opinion and expect it.

Conversation won’t replace thorough, unbaised reporting, but it’s a
great alternative in situations where professional reporting is not
feasible.

The planned extension of Boston’s subway to Somerville is a great
example. The Globe, The Somerville Journal and The Somerville News are
all covering the issue in helpful, broad strokes. It’s unrealistic to expect
more from them.

Those who want to understand the issue in more detail are heading to the listserve of the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership.
Everybody who posts on the STEP list has an opinion, and that’s good.
Members of the community develop identities, issues surface, they’re
hashed out honestly, and the community moves forward.

Eventually, the discussion that’s happening on the STEP list will
happen openly, across the web on all the community’s issues. Smart
local leaders will weigh in on their blogs, businesses will explain
what the changes mean to them on their sites, conversations will begin, and issues
will become clearer.

None of this will replace thorough, unbiased, professional reporting. It will just
provide information on a level of detail that is not feasible for
reporters. It will be rich, honest information that was previously
unavailable, and it will be great to have.