How local is too local?

I’m pretty sure that, of all the news in my home county newspaper, about .00001 percent of it mentions the street on which I grew up. I’m not terribly disturbed that more news about my street isn’t regularly published, not only because hardly anything newsworthy happens on my street and also because there are thousands more streets competing for attention in the rest of the county.

But seriously, how cool would it be to know why that ambulance roared by my bedroom window at 2 a.m. the other day?

A while ago, it occurred to Adrian Holovaty that people of the 21st century crave information they don’t have, probably because so much of it is at our fingertips that we’re intrigued when it is not. He created EveryBlock, where residents of 11 densely populated cities across the U.S. can check out the latest news, police blotters, photos and more from their own backyards. While each city has a main portal site where news from all over converges, locals can use filters to only display an area, neighborhood or even street of interest.

Some newspapers have observed this trend of megalocal news coverage from both locals and professionals like Holovaty with interest, wondering how they can incorporate the really local into their own general news. They know they need to pull readers in, especially in the face of plummeting revenue, and what better way than to talk about what’s going on at the neighbors’? But newspapers probably won’t gain anything focusing on superlocal coverage, at least not without losing other vital parts of the paper.

Some non-newspaper websites that have tackled local-local news, as it is sometimes called, by going straight to the source: the locals themselves. These websites serve as portals for discussions on street- and neighborhood-specific issues between its residents and is not necessarily newsworthy. (Every neighborhood has its stereotypical old grouch who always finds something to complain about, hot-button issue or not.) However, some of the issues brought up on these sites can’t be gleaned from town hall meetings, police briefings or other public events reporters have access to–thus, these sites should clearly be on a reporter’s radar.

The question that remains, then, is how a reporter who finds pertinent, newsworthy local information on such websites should use it. The best way is to use these online discussion panels as a starting point for a larger story, perhaps even one that connects with a national issue. (For example, my hometown paper has of late focused on the locals’ angry reception of the downtured California State Prop 8.) Seeing these discussions at least gives a reporter an idea of the general public feeling and can show the reporter how a story might go based on personal and phone interviews with similar locals.

I’ve given references to my very localized hometown newspaper, one that gets all its international news from wire services, one whose reporters cover nothing but news that occurs inside Santa Cruz County lines. So what of huge papers with bureaus all over the U.S. and the world, like the New York Times? Can they benefit from websites like EveryBlock? Only to a very small degree, I think. Since their readership expects thorough coverage not only from within the city but throughout the entire country and world, their Bronx beat reporter should make efforts at crowd-sourcing through sites like these. The guy stationed in Tel Aviv needn’t bother.

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