I’ve become an unofficial advisor to LocalsGuide, a “web2print” experiment in Ashland, Oregon. Shields and his crew at LocalsGuide have created what they call a geographically-focused social media network from which they abstract a monthly newspaper, also of the same name. Just under 200 Ashland area residents create accounts and post blogs, photos and other material.
The tonic for their undertaking is the term “hyperlocal.” It’s a model they hope will prove viable to roll out to other communities.
There are a number of citizen journalism efforts underway, most of which are listed in Jonathan Dube’s CyberJournalist site. The ones that seem to be the most successful have one thing in common, a core of professional journalists. Examples include New West (online) and Northwest Voice (online -> paper).
A social network is one thing, but a publication, online, off or both, is another. Journalism is no high priesthood, but it is a profession and not as easy as its popularity as an undergraduate major would suggest.
LocalsGuide has the desire, and this is a common one and a laudable one, to get out of the way and let the community decide what it deems important. But the thing about networks is that each person decides what he or she thinks is important, not necessarily what the community as a whole does.
So there is a functional difference between a social network and a publication. A publication, no matter its type, has an editorial element and, as I’ve told Shields, that every publisher has to exersize, or find someone to exersize, editorial judgment. A strong voice, with an equally strong emphasis on allowing a multitude of other voices, is ideal in my opinion. And the most successful citizen journalism undertakings seem to do this very thing.
Regardless of what they decide to do, it’s a really exciting and interesting effort and worth watching.