Be a Hero: Go Into Local News

Ah, the luxuries of life in a world with more media outlets than ever. A world where any ambitious young aspiring journalist can... move to New York, and work for a blog. Hmm.

A new study from the FCC says that local news—real local news, stories written by reporters at small-town local newspapers, not whatever the nearest network news affiliate scrapes for the 11 p.m. broadcast—is in serious shortage in many communities in America. In one way, this is surprising: although the newspaper industry has been in perilous decline for a solid decade now, small-town local papers always seemed like the industry's safest segment, because they faced the least competition from the internet.

But with the internet becoming as pervasive as television, slick websites (hello!) and national news outlets are, as was inevitable, eroding the historic monopolies of local news. Not that they're directly competing; people are simply being drawn away from their local papers and their shitty websites to bigger, more national stories. If a paper folds in New York, it doesn't much matter, because there are a dozen other outlets to pick up the slack. If a paper folds (or, more likely, contracts its coverage in the face of declining budgets) in St. Augustine, Florida, though, that news is simply gone. Poof.

There's some truth in the simplistic old "newspapers do the real reporting and all the new-fangled media outlets steal their content" trope. Nothing new in it, though—television and radio news operations have been feeding off local newspaper stories forever, as have larger newspapers. So when the St. Augustine Record writes fewer news stories about St. Augustine, the Jacksonville newspaper picks up fewer news stories about St. Augustine, and the Jacksonville TV stations pick up fewer stories about St. Augustine, and pretty soon, everyone just knows less about St. Augustine, because there's damn sure not a mature online news operation to St. Augustine to pick up that slack. It doesn't really bother the TV stations, because they can just plug in Anthony Weiner stories. The losers are the people who might want to know what happens in St. Augustine.

It stands to reason, then, that there is an opportunity right now in the local news business. News has value! Hundreds of years of media business history have proven that. AOL is trying to pick up on that very opportunity right now, with Patch, which basically subsidizes one reporter in small communities across the nation and... hopefully will turn a profit, some time.

It's true, the profitable days of this local news transition might still be a ways off. So it's easier for a huge company like AOL to subsidize a local news project for a while, because they can stand to take some losses. But you, young wannabe-journalists of America, can find an opportunity here as well. Do not just move to New York! We're full! We don't need any more god damn bloggers here! Everything is already covered to within an inch of its life! I mean, NYC is obviously a way more fun place to live than some small town, but that small town needs you. With a little gumption, you can quite easily become the most important media figure in Standard Small Town, USA, at the age of 22. In New York, you will never be important (sorry). You'll also be doing the fine small town folks an actual public service by covering the city council meetings and poking into the misdeeds of all the assholes on the school board or whatever. You'll be able to write stories that have a concrete impact that you'd never achieve by recapping TV shows or whatever awful thing you'll end up doing when you come to NYC with journalistic aspirations. And when the profit model for online local news finally gets itself together, you'll be right there, already entrenched, with your own tiny little media empire.

Good luck. We'll be cheering you on, from New York.

[NYT. Photo via]