There's been so much talk in the last few weeks about which major American city will be the first without a newspaper, with a lot of the focus on San Francisco or maybe now in Chicago where both papers are now in Chapter 11. just like here but with two owners instead of one. What would No-Newspaper Town USA look like? No one knows, but here in Philadelphia we've seen a couple of peeks:
The bad: This is kind of stale now, so I won't dwell on it, but a couple of weeks ago did you see how see how Eagles' coach Andy Reid came to break his long silence on the departure of defensive stalwart Brian Dawkins? He submitted himself to a probing interview...on the Eagles own team web site. Frankly, the interview could have been worse, but you see where this is heading. Sports teams, big corporations like Comcast, City Hall or even the White House -- all of these people are going to be getting their story out directly to you, without the jaundiced eye of a skeptical journalist as a middleman trying to cut through the spin (even though that often goes bad: See Iraq, 2002-03). Even so, these pseudo-stories like the Reid interview will be 100 percent spin, and nothing but.
The good: New Media fanatics believe that other kinds of journalism will rise up to replace newspapers, and some of may be even better than what is produced now, because these sources of news will be more closely rooted in the local communities where news happens. Here's a case in point -- a story that generated a massive debate this morning on the Michael Smerconish Show.
The article was reported and written by a Temple University student in their Urban Journalism Workshop, the kind of community-oriented hyperlocal effort that many experts hope will rise up even as traditional newsrooms shrink. It was a much more simple and on-the-ground approach to crime reporting than many big dailies -- who now have just enough resources to cover The Big Murder of the Day -- are able to undertake on a regular basis. Shannon McDonald simply rode around crime-plagued Strawberry Mansion and got a very provocatve story:
The stories of police brutality are easier to believe when Thrasher and his colleagues interact. "TNS" is the code they use for many of their cases. When Thrasher arrives at Arthur's Dog House on Germantown Avenue in response to a midday call about an escalating argument; the cook greets him by saying the fighting couple has already left.
"Nobody died," he tells her dismissively.
Thrasher's lieutenant drives by as Thrashers slides back into the seat of his car.
"TNS," Thrasher tells his superior. "Typical N----- S---."
Although it was published on a relatively obscure Web site, word of the story spread virally through the tangled Web of electronic media -- Smerconish to Attytood to anyone who picks up the ball from here -- and it reaches a wider audience, triggering a community discussion on urban crime, racism, police brutality, and other important issues. This is how news increasingly works in the 21st Century, and it's not bad.
Is this a perfect Brave New World? Of course not. Who will pay Shannon McDonald a living wage to practice journalism when she graduates in May? I have not a clue. But I do think the Great Debate of Journalism is at the point of looking forward and not back, of how do we advance the good -- local reporting -- and how do we mitigate the bad and the ugly of corporate and political spin in a world that will look very different from the one we know.