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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"'Local' is just one set of ripples on the lake of information"
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Over on the Poynter Online blog, Amy Gahran has a very smart piece on some of the confusion surrounding debates about "media localism." In her essay asking "How Important is Local, Really?", she challenges some of the assumptions underlying the Knight Foundation's new Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

I particularly like her line about how, "in many senses, 'local' is just one set of ripples on the lake of information -- especially when it comes to 'news.' And for many people, it's not even the biggest or most important set of ripples." That is exactly right. Today, local choices are just a few more choices along the seemingly endless continuum of media choices. It's foolish to assume that "media localism" in a geographic sense is as important now as it was in the past for the reasons Gahran makes clear in her essay:

I'm glad that the Knight Foundation is asking basic questions about what kinds of information people need support community and democracy. However, I question the Commission's strong focus on geographically defined local communities. It seems to me that with the way the media landscape has been evolving, geographically defined local communities are becoming steadily less crucial from an information perspective. I suspect that defining communities by other kinds of commonalities (age, economic status/class, interests, social circles, etc.) would be far more relevant to more people -- although more complex to define.
I suspect that clinging reflexively to "local" as the paramount criteria for "relevant" reflects a newspaper perspective that was never a good fit for most people, and that never really served most people's information needs well. I'm not saying local doesn't matter. Local is important. It's especially important for people who are newcomers to communities. It's especially important for identifying accessible resources and services that people might need in their daily lives. But in many senses, "local" is just one set of ripples on the lake of information -- especially when it comes to "news." And for many people, it's not even the biggest or most important set of ripples.

So my question for Knight is: Why do you assume that geographically defined local communities should be the paramount focus of people's informational diet, or even to support democracy? Did you seriously consider any other perspectives? Today, you're at Google -- where folks are used to viewing people's information needs as a complex mosaic, where no one filter is paramount for everyone. I hope you take advantage of their insight.

Gahran has it exactly right, but over at the Knight Foundation blog, a debate is raging about her comments. I posted some of my own thoughts on the topic, which were originally posted here in my essay on Our Continued Wishful Thinking about "Media Localism". Read that for more details on the forgotten dimensions of this debate.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:18 PM | Mass Media

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