June’s Carnival of Journalism, a monthly collection of thoughts from the journalism blogosphere, focused on the issue of local.
The question was whether journalism is better the more local it is. The range of responses shows this is a rich area for debate.
I sat out the carnival as I was on honeymoon in Thailand. But one of the entries from Paul Bradshaw, arguing that online all journalism is potentially local, got me thinking whether we are asking the wrong question.
The concept of local news is based on the news value of geographical proximity – the notion that events close to us are more relevant than those in far away lands.
The problem with this approach is that it is based on an out-dated model of news, where there was a scarcity of news and information and the sources for this were limited by geography.
In other words, news was hard to come by and the primary source for this was the local daily paper.
The explosion of electronic media, from radio to TV to the Internet, has undermined this model. We now live in a world where there is an abundance of news from an abundance of sources.
Maybe rather than asking whether journalism should be local, we should ask ourselves what does local mean in the 21st century. Geographical proximity is still a factor in news, as people are interested in what their neighbours are up to.
But perhaps we should pay more attention to the notion of cultural proximity, so stories concerned with people who speak the same language, look the same, and share the preoccupations as the audience receive more coverage than those concerned with people who speak different languages, look different and have different preoccupations.
The issue then becomes how do we decide on what is cultural proximity? Take Vancouver as an example. This is a Canadian city, with several significant and vibrant ethnic communities.
The result is a multifaceted local population, where diversity rather than homogeneity is the norm.
In this case, local takes on a meaning beyond geography, encapsulating issues of demographics, culture and values. Take the example of a story by Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra, one of my students at the UBC School of Journalism.
She produced a video piece on how attitudes to the elderly are changing among Canada’s Asian community.
This story is based in Vancouver but it has a relevance beyond the city. It resonates on a national and global level, as well as across demographics.
You don’t have to live in Vancouver, or in Canada, to be interested in the piece, so to call this “local news” is to deny its wider appeal.
The issue then is less whether local is better, but rather how do we redefine local to remain relevant in a digital news environment.