Final Assignment: Local News

Posted: March 31, 2011 by Philip Lee in Uncategorized

In 1835, the French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the abundance of newspapers in democratic America. He observed that these local newspapers played a critical role in maintaining a sense of community and common purpose among people who were pursuing their own individual ends.
“Nothing but a newspaper can drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same moment,” he wrote. “A newspaper is an adviser that does not require to be sought, but that comes of its own accord and talks to you briefly every day of the common weal, without distracting you from your private affairs…. To suppose that they only serve to protect freedom would be to diminish their importance: they maintain civilization. I shall not deny that in democratic countries newspapers frequently lead the citizens to launch together into very ill-digested schemes; but if there were no newspapers there would be no common activity. The evil which they produce is therefore much less than that which they cure.” (My italics.)
As newspapers decline in the new digital age, and other sources of local news continue to struggle to maintain a presence in communities, few online alternatives have emerged to take their place. This final assignment is an exercise in imagining and outlining a solution to this problem.
The assignment is this: Choose a community, preferably your home town or city. Briefly outline the nature of the community, and develop a plan for an internet based multi-media platform that will play a role (to use Tocqueville’s words) in maintaining civilization and a sense of community and common purpose.
What kind of stories and information will the site deliver? How will the stories and information be delivered? What forms of media will be used? How will it interact with members of the community? How will it reflect the larger narrative of the community as a whole? How will it be financed (advertising, online subscriptions, foundation funding, membership drives)? What kinds of obstacles must be overcome to make this successful. How will success be measured?
Whenever possible, link us to examples of news organizations that are using methods that you would incorporate into your project.
Think outside the box, always taking into account the speed with which this revolution is unfolding. Consider the speed of change just in this semester and imagine where we might find ourselves in five years, not where we are now.
2000 words, give or take. Due at noon on April 20.


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