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January 17, 2007

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Max Terry

A good point, but I think it's worth underlining how relative "distance" is now. For instance, I follow this blog fairly regularly, yet I rarely read the college newspaper. Why? Because even though the paper has news physically relevant to me, there's rarely much intellectual connection/genuine interest/novelty. On the other hand, I'll check my pals' Facebook wall before reading this blog. Etc.

Christoph Harwood

The Oxford philosopher, Mackie,talked about self-referential altruism. We find it easier to be nice to and care about those closer to us. It doesn't make it right but it is understandable.

Vladimir Golovin

Yes, this is perfectly valid from the biologiocal standpoint -- if something isn't close to me, it cannot harm or benefit me or my kin.

On the other hand, there are things like global warming or global economy -- things that can affect anyone without being physically close. Today, physical distances don't matter as much as they did during earlier stages of our evolution.

Thomas R. Clifford

This theory is also true in documentary filmmaking.

It actually explain why for the past 23 years I have avoided writing narration for my corporate films. The voice is detached, too far away, and quite frankly...meaningless. Who cares what a "voice" is saying? How could it be relevant to me, the viewer?

Words written by one person and voiced by another creates a Vanishing Point so quickly you'll bore your audience in a heartbeat.

Using employees to tell a story creates a more personal, relevant and meaningful effect. People care about people's story.

Thank, Chris.

Director Tom

shai

I am a bit skeptical of the power of hyperlocal news, because a lot of it, if not done properly, is utterly boring. Have you ever looked at a suburban newspaper? Those folks have been doing hyperlocal for ages. They are full of "hyperlocal" news that Coach Thompson won an award for sportsmanship on Sunday, and that the neighborhood girl scouts reached their cookie-selling goals for the year. Great; practically the definition of hyperlocal. But also fantastically boring.

Now, a real gritty series on shady land deals going on down the street using municipal money, or an in depth look at how cuts on the police force have created the recent crime wave - that's hyperlocal, fascinating, and actionable. Part of the reason it's fascinating is that it covers something, ahem, new. Coach Thompson's award might be "new" strictly speaking, but it's not new in the sense that people are getting awards for things every day, and award ceremonies are more or less identical. Crime waves are not. In other words, hyperlocal isn't enough, news must be actionable and, of course, new.

I suppose you could try to encapsulate this point under the metric of "distance" - e.g., news which is not actionable is emotionally distant, or something like that - but that's essentially a tautological point.

Jim Russell

Hyper-esoteric perhaps, but not hyperlocal. Geography is much more about connections across space than scale of experience. "My News" displays my mental map, my worldview. I may care a great deal about a place halfway around the world from where I live. What may be hyperlocal (down to the scale of an individual) is our interest in a given place.

For example, we follow a personal blog from our now distant hometown, instead of reading the local or regional newspaper online. But even that blog filters through select news items from larger scaled sources.

What I suspect is happening is that local newspapers are doing a lousy job of serving their displaced readership.

Tom Higley

I remember a conversation back in 1994 with the Publisher of a local Gannett paper. It was still quite early in the development of public perceptions of the Internet and the Web, and I was suggesting that there would come a time when people used the Internet to manage their access to news on an a la carte basis. You like Tech? You get to see Tech up front. You like Sports? You see Sports on your front page. He was horrified by the thought. He explained that he was excited by my vision about the Internet and what it would make possible, but he saw newspapers as repositories of a kind of public trust - a responsibility really - to make certain that people saw some things they didn't want to see. If he and I had been conversing yesterday, he might have pointed to the news story about 34,000 Iraq civilians killed during the past year as an example.

The world has changed a lot since then. The Internet has delivered on every one of the things I expected it would, growing at unbelievable rates, delivering more (and more varied) content than most people would have imagined and raising the specter of more than a few ills (from denial of service attacks to identiy theft to spam). Still, I think the Gannett publisher was right to be concerned about the demise, however predictable, of that impetus to uphold an ideal of the public good. He believed that newspapers (and news organizations) should compel the public to take a daily look at those far away places in which unpleasant things are happening and happening on a daily basis. I would rather have people look (or listen) of their own accord. But will they?

Andrew Peek

Malcolm Gladwell touched on your Vanishing Point theory when he discussed his "immunity" concept in Tipping Point. We all reach a threshhold where what would once get us excited no longer registers on the radar... the novelty has worn off. Of course, your evolution of this theory to include proximity factors is interesting and new to me.

johne

If such sentiments are at all general, I'm part of a long tail, myself: ever since I was a child, foreign news has always seemed more interesting than local. I remember characterizing the latter to my parents at the age of twelve as "just car wrecks" (nowadays I'd probably say "just convenience store robberies").

Nowadays I know better, but still often have to force myself to read even important state and city news.

Evan Sandhaus

Your musings dislodged and ancient collegiate classroom memory.

Several years back, I took an survey course of the history of Economic Philosophy. In this way I came to learn that - in addition to his lasting contribution to global markets - Adam Smith (he of The Wealth of Nations) was something of a moral Philosopher. In his work "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," he argued that an otherwise moral European would be far more troubled at the prospect of loosing his little finger than at the prospect of the destruction of whole of China. I quote at length:

"Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own."

So, as you mentioned, this notion is an old one indeed.

Howard Weaver

Please note in the preceeding excellent quote from Adam Smith that the "man of humanity in Europe" was predicted to be more concerned with the loss of a little finger than the death of hundreds of millions in China "provided he never saw them."

This is the entire point. Surely there is some responsibility to keep Mr. Anderson and others from retreating into a infosphere of scraped knees while tens of thousands die elsewhere.

Francis Hamit

Our local newspaper covers the hard news that those in nearby bigger cities ignore, and it's not just high school sports; we've had some very dramatic events here, including the Day Fire, in the last year. They are thick with advertising because those merchants have few other ways to efficently reach their customers. They don't cover other issues or events. Local is their niche and their profit base. All news is local to some degree. Small town newspapers make lots of money and have lots of readers because they provide news and information that other media ignores.

CD

I absolutely agree. Sunday morning I was in the car, turned on NPR, and the top story was about the 2 children that were kidnapped and recovered in Missouri. It's very touching, but I could care less about it and I don't consider this national news. It would be a great local story, maybe county-wide or state-wide in Missouri. When I got home around noon and looked on Google News, it was in the top left of the page, basically the lead story. I don't mean to belittle the story or the fact these kids were rescued, but this is basically irrelevant news for me.

This raises another issue. How did this story become national news? I imagine other children are rescued and it isn't the leading story in every media outlet. Did this get major coverage because it was 2 kids that were rescued, or just because the AP wrote a story and every outlet picked it up?

Chris

This highlights one of the paradoxes of the information technology revolution. As IT frees us from a dependency on traditional/physical sources of information, we risk becoming highly local, enclosed, and unaware of those things that exist outside the bubble we create for ourselves. Yet, that same IT frees companies, organizations, and other groups around the globe from the traditional/physical sources of production and interaction, which allows them to have a much greater impact on our daily lives. There seems to be a chance of danger where the "long tail" and the "flat world" meet.

Eric J

Didn't Spy Magazine at one point come up with formula determining how a story would be covered in the New York Times? It involved the inverse square of the distance from Times HQ X # of deaths + a Celebrity factor, I believe.

sriyansa

On one hand we have this gradual vanishing with the increase in distance (more psychological than physical, I would guess) and on the other the ever shrinking world of information with globalization and technology. With this tradeoff, would not the major content producers of the world today concentrate even more on finding the Lowest Common Denominator (hits) than before? Because, now with a much broader audience the expected return from a hit is much higher, and this in turn would finance the non-successful ones. Being from India, one clear example I see of such a trend are the movies produced by Bollywood.

While this does not contradict the Long Tail theory, it definitely increases the importance of hits rather than decreasing them.

Bob Stepno

Your NPR reference reminds me of an Austin Lounge Lizards song from years ago, "Mourning Edition."

However, in the last two areas I've lived, local stations made very good use of their segments in the main NPR news programs... So write a bigger check to your station and put NEWS DEPT somewhere in big letters. :-)

While you're at it, double that check and insist they cover your state capital instead of leaving it to the AP bureau. There's such a thing as being too local, mistaking blinders of your own making for a natural vanishing point.

I'd also pull the vanishing point into focus with a small edit: "Paris, [your state's name here], is more important than Paris, France -- in [your state's name here]..."

Kaleberg

I think you've got the whole thing backwards. The whole point of the internet is that global is local.

I'd much rather have news about unfamiliar things in exotic places. I know what's going on in my house. Sure I want coverage of my town and state, but the news I actually READ, as opposed to skim, is stuff that makes me think. The fact that I can get news from so many sources gives me a much better picture of the world and puts my local area in perspective. Local news on the internet is silly. There are already lots of perfectly effective mechanisms for disseminating local news. The internet is better.

It's sort of like local search. It's basically useless. I know where to shop locally, and how to search locally. What makes the internet better than the Yellow Pages is that I can find stuff that you can only get from one outlet in the country or the world. There's even a book out on the large aggregate markets for relatively unpopular items. It's called The Long Tail.

Granted, there are people out there who want daily bulletins on the state of their navels, but surely there are better ways of contemplating this organ without using the internet.

Sebastien Provencher

Would a "local" paper without national or international news make it more relevant? It's possible but in this case, you'd need another newspaper to quench your international news needs. And maybe that's truly the future of the newspaper industry. In a few years, you might find only authoritative international newspaper brands (New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, La Stampa, The Globe & Mail, etc.) and strong hyperlocal newspapers. All the ones in the middle will either have evolved or died. This is very similar to what happened in the retail business.

Glenn Fannick

I don't understand all the people saying that news has to directly impact me to be important or interesting. That's an amazingly small-minded (very American) approach to the world. (And having been that reporter covering those Girl Scout cookie sales, I can say they're just as boring to write as to read!) I care differently about my daughter's skinned knee than killings in Iraq, but I do care about both.

jeff

Hyperlocal newspapers can work well in communities with many small thriving businesses or in isolated communities that don't have a large metro paper. In other areas, hyperlocal is a philosophy of the past. In my town of 60,000, there aren't enough small businesses to generate sufficient ad revenue to support printing and distributing papers. Two local papers have folded in the time that I've lived here. In the surrounding communities, the only local papers that survive rely almost entirely on revenue from legal notices. They may have one or two local stories written by the owner/reporter. The rest is filler. In my community, it takes two years of publishing a paper once a week with a print run of several thousand papers per edition before the local government is obliged to run their legal ads in the paper. That's a heavy investment for a minimal return.

Rafa Casado

I believe the older you get, the truer this is. When you are in your twenties, you care about the world and its distant places. My parents always read more local newspapers than I did.

D Read

I'm not interested in the local news - a cat was stuck up a tree; local government is accused of not investing in dog poop bins; major town intersection will be shut for a week; local guy is famous guitar player. There is a place for local news, but it really is very boring. I'm interested in comment about what the heck Condi can do with North Korea. Or news about Chinese business, and comment from a well-informed commentator on the way it will affect our economy. Or the latest Pope announcement in relation to the history of Catholicism. The article about hyper-globalism says more about the short-sightedness of the writer than about the world. He's taken two data points and plotted a trend. His daughter's knee graze should never be in a newspaper or even a hyper-local personalised homepage - a simple phone call is best. A bombing in Iraq probably has little emotional connection with the writer, but it is part of a US campaign that has massive human and financial cost for the US citizens, and if they had any sense they would ask their governors some pretty difficult questions what they are doing on their behalf. The question is do you choose to read news that you emotionally connect with best? Or news that provide clues to human psychology, the different experiences of people across the world, success/failure of new democracies, how new markets are being exploited, what impact new technology is having, varying attitudes towards the older generation and attempts to solve the demographic pensions time-bomb, research into health foods, analysis of the ethics of buying a banana vs apples. Am I the only one to have an interest in issues outside my village?

Scott Walters

The problem is one of balance. We are bombarded daily with national and international news -- do we really CARE about an astronaut wearing diapers? -- to the near exclusion of the local. When do people vote most: when there is a Presidential election. Why? Because they think that it is more important, when in actuality the local elections are vastly more important for their day-to-day life than anything happening in Washington. I teach college, and my students feel that they haven't accomplished anything unless it changes The World, when in reality of they focused on changing those around them, they'd really make a difference. No, I'm with Chris -- the human psyche is only capable of absorbing so many calamities without numbing out. And that's where we are right now -- numbed out. Live in your community.

George Johnson

Hyperlocal doesn't have to look and feel and read like homework. It can be sexy. Check out Buffalo Rising.

Christina joseph

I see you’re not publishing my comments. But, I thought I’d let you know, on your recommendation, I ordered this on Saturday, and received it Tuesday afternoon. That was with the free shipping. I’m using it now

Kelly

Excellent points! The whole point of the internet is that global is local.

Hazel

Interesting debate about the hyperlocal news model.
In regards to public-led news agenda, I think that it works most effectively on a local news level; members of a community selecting their own news values leads to a democratic, relevant media system.

What about on a larger scale?
I'm researching public-led, or audience controlled news sites such as NewsVine.
Does society benefit from a democratic, open editorial process that truly reflects 'public interest'
Or do we still need that authoritative, editorial voice to guide us through the cacophony of online news, and prevent an 'echo-chamber' phenomenon-

Any opinions appreciated!

Alberto Cottica

I suppose CEOs work by business models where macro conditions are more or less parametric. There may be some trouble in adjusting them to dramatic changes in their business environment - such as credit crunches or demand slumps. So their perspective on their own company assumes values of the relevant parameters that are difficult to esit unless you rework the whole business model.

Of course, a much simpler theory is that, if you are a CEO around a famous business journalist like the chief editor of Wired you do not want to say your company is toast. Especially if that company is public, or in deb, or looking for capital -which covers a lot of the companies out there :)

GPC

"that our interest in a subject is in inverse proportion to its distance (geographic, emotional or otherwise) from us."

Not true. Obviously. We would be short of astronomers, quantic physicist, etc, etc. And I, along with millions of others, would not care a bit for the far away Australia.

In fact, some times, many times!, the 'distance' of the subject is enough de per si to trigger interest in it.

Not true, indeed.

Maybe if you rephrase that: the near a thing is the more we tend to be interest in it.
(But even this is only a tendency, as we tend to get bored very fast.

ram

The difficulty with scarcity models in the domain of social media is that, well, there is no scarcity. The more important aspect of this market value is the distance between “good enough” and “not quite good enough”. On January 27th, I wrote about the Vanishing Point Theory of News. At that time, I proposed that there is a diminishing returns on my investment in media creation and consumption based on my ever-changing interests.

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Tidbits

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!