Give it A Rest Already, Damnit! NPR Basically Faux-Shanked Because It’s Free

Keith Olberman. Juan Williams. Joe Scarborough. Jeez. We’ve already exhausted this topic, the one about commentators apparently not allowed to have personal opinions (just go to their Twitters if you want to find out what they’re really thinking; it’s not like there’s an entire show built off of snark or anything).

The LA Times reports that with the advent of the new Republican House majority, public funding for NPR may be in jeopardy.

No doubt many seek a refuge from the silliness and ideological histrionics increasingly gripping the rest of media. That would have been clear to anyone who has actually listened to NPR news, as opposed, say, to getting a caricatured view of it from ideologues on cable television and AM talk radio

CLEARLY the author of this column, James Rainey, is totally not Republican. But he has a point. NPR serves as the neutral brain food for those people who just want to get the cold, hard news without the commentary beating them over the head every five seconds.

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NYU Hyperlocality Blogging Program Stirs Up LEV

Photo from Curbed

This title in my newsfeed made the neurons in my brain fire along the action synapse pathway for a resounding “PING!” just having finished reading chapter 4 in The News About The News.

The premise is simple: The NYU J-School plans to send forth an army of journalism students into East Village in order to create “hyperlocal” blogging coverage for the community, as well as provide hands-on experience for the students.

Ring a bell?

Downie & Kaiser talk about the Asbury Park Press, which, after having sold out to Gannett, underwent a series of priority changes. One of them being a greater focus on local news.

Incidentally, the NYT has dabbled with hyperlocal NJ blogs in the past: Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange.

Was the Asbury Park Press successful with its local venture? Not really. From the description the book gives, it seems like journalists were almost required to sanitize and just barely scratch the surface (or in other words, NOT be journalists).
And what about the NYT? Perhaps New Jersey’s reputation precedes itself (after all, it is Dirty Jerz…), or perhaps no one really cares about hyperlocality via the internet. Whichever local blogs weren’t killed off were redirected to an unaffiliated site, and the NYT freelance liason got fired.

We briefly mentioned in class that yes, people seem to want personalized information: niche magazines that focus on a single topics like hunting, sewing, climbing, etc., and no, major publications haven’t yet found a way to break into the local news consumer market.

So this new NYU-LEV project raises a few issues:

1. Increasing gravitation toward local (and now hyperlocal) news as a way to keep or gain readership
2. Use of “blogs” as a platform, decline of quality?
3. Use of students for “experience” purpose, really just ulterior motive for free-financed coverage?
4. Community reaction

Perhaps—and here’s where things get sticky—the locals already have a reliable source of information, what with the EV already having a flourished blogging community devoted to going-ons and hyperlocal news. A few clicks and I found a bunch of blogs more than wary about this development, proposed late February of this year and stated to begin on September 13. Scathing headlines like: NYU to Destroy Cover the East Village and After helping ruin the East Village, NYU turns it’s attention to covering it. The responses, though heated, are not without some degree of justifiable worry. I’m sure I’d be annoyed if a bunch of green burgeoning journalists rolled through my stomping ground and poked their noses into everything with an air of authority. Or at least that’s what the response seems to be right now. Choire Sicha at The Awl made a few good points regarding the issue:

“Also, my third and minor objection is that most of the reporters are going to be young people who actually don’t know anything about the history of the area they’re reporting on. But that’s fine, if they are smart or have time to learn things or have a good editor.”

This feeling is emulated, though in a more blunt fashion, by Vanishing New York‘s Jeremiah:

“NYU is notorious, hyperlocally, as the reviled enemy of the EV. if they cover what they know best, it’ll be pub crawls, frat-house hijinks, shopping, and eating.”

The general consensus of the influential and long-standing EV blogs is one of repulsion. Repulsion stemmed by a fear of a bastardization of culture and community into—God forbid—hipster news.

However, I can’t say that I completely agree. Being a journalism student myself (and one particularly attracted to the internet, at that), I’d welcome the opportunity to gain some down and dirty experience, especially in EV. Would I pay NYU prices in order to do so? Not a chance. Who knows what the LEV articles will be like, though. I think a lot of support for hyperlocal blogs like Gothamist and The Awl resonate due to the author’s voice. I mean, it clearly is not standard journalism, and this is the conundrum we face as traditional newspapers decline. How do we maintain that standard through new mediums? Or will the new decade call for a complete reevaluation of “the standard”?

Sicha’s other point:

…this set-up suggests that the way to finance local news operations is only on the backs of free labor.

Ultimately, this project is just that—a project; a bubble experimentation in open-sourced news (“Our goal is that as much as half of the content on the site will be produced by our East Village neighbors.”) via the internet. Perhaps some free enterprise is needed first in order to figure out how to finance in the future.

Further Reading:
The Local East Village
East Village ‘Blog Mafia’ vs. The New York Times
The local East Village blog to Launch September 13
The New York Times’ Latest Hyperlocal Site Will Launch on Sept. 13
After helping ruin East Village, NYU turns its attention to covering it

The New York Times’ Hyperlocal Jersey Experiment Is Dunzo