Local news – still kicking, hurray!

People keep saying this: Oh, advertising is down; oh, it is not a sustainable form of media in an internet age; oh, it is a dead tree, floating down the river, never to be seen again.

I say: Booooooooooo.

I realise this is not a stunningly complex media argument but then, if you wanted that youd go find yourself a stunningly complex media commentator, rather than, say, me.

Instead, you have me. Hello! Anyway. My point is, I will be sad if they do. One of the first things I do on reaching somewhere: the first first, if at all possible, is to pick up a copy of the local newspaper. And then go and find somewhere with a nice cold drink, and read it cover to cover, if theres time.

Within a few pages – especially by the time you reach the opinion and letters (features are generally interchangeable from place to place – although, of course, they are also Very Important Things and writen by geniuses. Genii. Oh hell.)

Anyway: by the time you reach most of the way through the front section of the local newspaper, you know whats going on in the town, what the big stories are, how people feel about it. Its a way of getting to know a place and its people (without, you know, actually talking to anyone, which tends to be helpful when you are about as shy as me).

So while we were driving around, we picked up quite a few newspapers. And there were some stunning stories in them all, and some brilliantly outraged letters about this or that or the other (though nothing on the ones in the local paper Ill tell you about next week, she said, making promises shed almost certainly never live up to) – and then sometimes, if you are very lucky, there will be a police log, detailing all the call outs the local police have taken over the last week or however. None of them are as poetic as the famous Arcata Eye one, but theyre still a good read.

Anyway these two things were just ones I particularly loved from the first couple of papers we picked up, from the village by the Grand Canyon – a paper for there and a couple of other local towns.


Local dog makes goodNow, the remarkable thing about this story you cant really tell how brilliant it is from the headline: though the headline iteself is pretty damned good.

But when you look at the caption, you can see something else: the story about the dog because the dog was looking for three young hikers whod been swept away and lost in the canyon.

Now, obviously this was a story that had been and gonein the local press but still, I thought: crikey, thats horrible – how old were these hikers? Were they ever found? What were their names? Were they on a guided hike or just going out on their own.

And you know what, reader? I have NO idea.

I combed though the whole front page paragraphs, flipped over to the page where all the stories continued with large words on the top of their columns to denote which story they were continuations of. See page 6: DOG and then I read all the way through that. I knew then name, length and weight of the dog, where it lived, what it ate for dinner, how proud its owner was of it, and what its favourite toy was (bit of rope).

I mean, I understand the focus of the story here was the local one, and the local thing about the story was the dog, and I know that, sadly, hiking accident stories are quite possibly quite frequent around those parts. And, you know, I have NO news sense whatsoever But I know what I need as a reader, and what I needed was just one mention of the three dead people and what may possibly have happened to them: and nope. Nothing.

He really likes marrow treats though, if youre wondering.

This was my other top best most favouritist thing: and it was so simple, just one of those Man on the Street type features, asking people what they thought of a certain aspect of current news.

The problem is, with only a small pool of people to ask, including children and those who just dont give a stuff about current affairs, surely they end up calling on the same people over and over again.

And if they dont, they surely come across the fact that, overwhelmingly, if you ask people to describe what they think of a current event in a single sentence without giving them a very directed question, you might not get a very newsworthy answer.

For a perfect example of this I give you: Are YOU worried about coming down with swine flu?

it's the responsesWhich is not really an opinion gatherer as much as a yes or no answer, which might be better for a percentage based poll than a vox pop feature, but anyway – all that is evident in those brilliant answers (well what else would you say?!) given by the featured local opinionites:Not really
I dont know. Not really
Sounds like regular flu to me (trans: not really)

I mean, I dont blame them, because theyre right. Were YOU really worried? Not really, right?

Its just the fact of deciding

a) this was the right question to ask, then
b) thinking it was STILL the right question to ask when youd asked the first three people and theyd answered not really, and then
c) not choosing to ask any more people in case you could find a differing view to present a bit more variation in opinion.

Nonono,just stick with that not really verdict. And one from a guy with a breathing hole in his neck!


Hurray for local news!