Update: I couldn't find this link before writing the post below about outsourcing journalism. Now I have. A community newspaper in Pasadena has outsourced coverage of Pasadena's city council meetings to two reporters in India. The move got a lot of play in Newsweek and the LA Times. Here's a helpful link from the New York Times' Freakonomics blog.
I'm very worried about small-town newspapers. The Savannah Morning News, where I am the arts and culture reporter, is down to 16 reporters (plus seven non-executive editors; if you take away three features and three sports reporters, you have 10 in metro) since the beginning of the year. There are now two reporters covering arts and entertainment.
Make that one. I tendered my resignation Monday.
Morris Publishing LLC, which owns the Morning News, reported last month that income was down 49 percent compared to this time last year. The company cut 60 jobs from its flagship paper, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.
The news came as other publicly traded newspaper chains reported second quarter results that were worse than expected (expectations were already negative): McClatchy, Gannet, Tribune, Dow Jones all saw revenue fall by about 20 percent.
According to Media Life Magazine, more than 900 newsroom jobs have been slashed since April. 2007 may end up being a turning point in the history of American journalism. That, of course, presumes that things have gotten as bad as they are going to get. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise.
As newsroom jobs are cut, there's more talk about "hyperlocalism" or "citizen journalism" -- the first is the idea that unique and valuable stories can be found on a local level, as opposed to just running pre-packaged wire stories; the other idea is that a community benefits when its members share their knowledge, skills and expertise. It's the Wisdom of Crowds Doctrine.
I think both ideas have merit. I like Steve Yelvington's description of hyperlocalism as a means for individuals to connect with the place in which they live. In a wired world that's virtually connected, the importance of being connected to a place and the people there will become more desirable.
I like the way citizen journalism is practiced at the New Haven Independent, where a small staff of motivated and passionate editors and reporters provide the leadership needed to create a participatory web-based newspaper that truly aims to amalgamate the collective wisdom of its high-educated crowds.
Hyperlocalism and citizen journalism are schools of journalistic thought that aim to benefit society. They are ideas born in the absence of marketplace concerns. They are a means to an altruistic end: serving humanity.
But, like a lot of good ideas, hyperlocalism and citizen journalism are being co-opted, I fear, by corporate managers who hope to press them into the service of the marketplace, not humanity. In others words, why pay a staff to write about communities when you can invite people to write about what's happening for free.
Consider what's happened to the Sudbury Star in Ontario, Canada, just north of Lake Huron. Its website appears to have transformed into a citizen journalism portal that's a mishmash of staff reports, wire copy and bloggers from around the community. The featured blogger today writes about "Taking Photos as Special Events" and notes about the local hockey league.
To their credit, these bloggers don't seem consumed by narcissism. But in the end, all of this effort, while charmingly reflecting the interests and character of the local community, is much text without context, much information without knowledge.
In other words, it's no replacement for the daily, dogged and determined reporting of a traditional newsroom.
Cast in a different light, citizen journalism done like this is another name for outsourcing. Newspapers are already outsourcing ad production, but blogging by writers writing for free could be seen as yet more outsourcing. In a climate that fetishizes profits, outsourcing journalism, like outsourcing income tax preparation, tech support and x-ray examinations, makes sense.
I don't think newrooms will be replaced at larger newspapers, but smaller papers are more vulnerable. As I said, the newsroom reporters at the Savannah Morning News are down to 16, minus one (me) next month. We're bleeding to death thanks to superior classifieds competition from Craigslist and a stalled housing market. At the same time, there's more talk from corporate about "hyperlocalism," "mojo journalists," "reverse publishing" and "reader-generated content." I don't think this is coincidental.
Good hyperlocalism and good citizen journalism require a newspaper to lead the cause for adding to the overall knowledge base of a community. But it can't be done right if the traditional roles of editors and journalists are outsourced. A newspaper's leadership requires it to ante up the resources needed to make hyperlocalism and citizen journalism good for humanity.
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog