What does local mean to you? Because as I researched local news over the past week I really only had one definition in mind – to me, local was only ever a term defined by geography and proximity. That is, until I came across Authentically Local, a website and movement supported by 45 independently run, hyperlocal news sites. These 45 supporters are not hyperlocal in the sense that major companies like Fwix.com are hyperlocal; they don’t use algorithms to collect news about a zip code. These 45 sites don’t need calculations and fact checkers because they have people on the ground, who live in the towns on which they report, attend the events they discuss, and, are at their core invested in the geographical coordinates they cover. The same must be said for their readers, as the supporting blogs reach a collective 800,000 readers monthly. The movement operates under the motto “Local doesn’t scale”, and Lance Knobel, co-founder of local blog Berkeleyside.com elaborates, saying, “Local journalism doesn’t scale and it doesn’t need to scale. It needs to emerge from people deeply engaged in their local community, determined to make a difference and provide a vital service”.
To me, the glaring difference between a site that defines local affairs by a geographical algorithm, and sites that have residents of these towns writing the blogs, is a level of originality and attention to detail that is just unparalleled. Although Fwix prides itself on amassing vast amounts of information on different locales, its haste to collect all it can (and it now has data on 23 million points of interest in the United States) has moved the site away from its original goal of being a local news source. The authors of the contributing blogs to Authentically Local can report on issues such as the hiring of a new high school principal, or the installation of a local bookstore, because their sons and daughters attend these schools, and their friends and neighbors shop at these stores. Meanwhile, Fwix charades as a local news source when it grows increasingly obvious that the site is the product of a semi-successful algorithm destined to make millions of dollars off of developers interested in cashing in on the “local” (read: within [insert radius here]) boom. In fact, in 2011 economists estimated that the local advertising market was worth $100 billion a year.
And so, after a week of researching local news, I have come to realize that I was not in fact researching the truly local at all. Local is not a Starbucks moving in down the street, or a Stop & Shop popping up on Dixwell. It is G-Heav on Broadway and Hulls on Chapel – a fact, I think, that our very own New Haven Independent might agree with.