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News of the neighborhood

"News of the neighborhood" Continued...

Issue: "The rise of localism," March 12, 2011

Each Patch.com site has had the goal of reaching up to 75,000 readers with coverage of sports, crime, local government, and so forth. Learning from other big organizations that tried hyper-local projects and lost hyper-dollars in the process, Patch has planned to keep editorial expenses low and pull down chunks of the $100 billion per year that local businesses spend on advertising. But the announcement last month that AOL was spending $315 million more from its divorce settlement to buy Huffington Post, and would put Arianna Huffington in charge of all its editorial content, may signal Patch changes. Even the hardly non-ideological New York Times fretted: "Given that Ms. Huffington has been straightforward about using a liberal prism on the news, AOL is now handing control of its still considerable traffic and content assets to someone who uses ideology as one of her decision tools in creating news content for consumers."

Of course, left-wing ideology may make for a good match with some journalism schools that are becoming inexpensive sources of talent for hyper-local publications, with students often paid in bylines and experience. The New York Times and New York University put out The Local: East Village, which covers a Manhattan neighborhood. The Arizona Republic publishes with Arizona State University the website AZ Fact Check, which scrutinizes what politicians say. Patch has PatchU, partnerships between local Patch publications and journalism programs including those of Hofstra, Northwestern, Stanford, and Columbia, and the universities of North Carolina, Missouri, Connecticut, Indiana, California, and Southern California.

Professional affiliations, of course, are no guarantee of quality. Last month, with high publicity, some editors and reporters formerly with The Washington Post, CBS, and others launched TBD.com, which on Feb. 3 headlined its lead story, "Pickup artist guide: How to land a date." The story informed readers, "Professional pickup artists teach men they have to figure themselves out before they can become better seducers. . . . One phone number and 99 rejections is better than no phone numbers and no rejections. . . . The important thing is how you feel after the women walk away. If they reject you, they're not ready for you. You're better than them. You're awesome. You need a woman who can handle you."

If 99 of 100 potential readers reject TBD, the editors may be feeding themselves the same line.
-with reporting by Tiffany Owens

Localism vs. Limbaugh?

By Marvin Olasky

Do conservatives have too much media influence? Yes, according to Mark Lloyd, chief diversity officer of the Federal Communications Commission-and emphasizing a version of localism is the way to combat it.

Lloyd, who co-wrote in 2007 a study of "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," wants the FCC to reduce conservative influence in talk radio. (To say it more simply, kneecap Rush Limbaugh.) He wants every radio station to be required to reapply for its license every three years. He wants a cap on the number of stations any entity can own. He wants community activists to demand that stations meet their needs and desires. He wants stations that don't bend to lose their licenses or pay fees to support "community broadcasting."

Lloyd's analysis shows that news/talk stations in the top 10 radio markets provide programming that is 76 percent conservative and only 24 percent "progressive." He sees that as a problem. But is it? Let's look at the politics of three other major media:

Major television networks with news programming: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, FOX, CNN, MSNBC, Comedy Central. One of them is mostly conservative.

Most influential newspapers and magazines: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek. None of them is conservative in news coverage. (The Journal has a conservative editorial page, so let's count it as half-conservative.)

Most-read internet news sites, according to Alexa: Yahoo, BBC Online, CNN Interactive, The New York Times, Huffington Post. None of them is conservative.

So let's see: In these three media, plus talk radio, conservatives have 12.5 percent, 10 percent, 0 percent, and 76 percent influence. That averages 25 percent conservative influence.

Hmm. Some folks probably do get all their information from talk radio, and some eat all their meals at McDonald's. But we don't require McDonald's to change its menu or pay fees to support local salad bars, because most of us believe that (a) we shouldn't penalize McDonald's for serving what people want, (b) most people don't eat all their meals at McDonald's, and (c) it's a free country. (Isn't it?)

We used to have a suffocating sameness in mass media, so conservative talk radio, despite its excesses, is a breath of fresh airtime. If we do have a lack of political diversity in media, it's because liberalism is still overrepresented, but that just means conservatives should compete more effectively.

Let's not let "localism" be hijacked for political hatchet work.

Christians behind the curve

By Marvin Olasky

Many local Christian publications do good work by printing devotional material-but local Christian news publications in the United States are rare, and the internet revolution hasn't done much to improve the situation. In the book Prodigal Press (1988), I pointed to the well-written Twin Cities Christian as a rarity, and 23 years later the same publication, now called Minnesota Christian Chronicle, is still best in show.

MCC is now owned by the Selah Media Group, which also publishes Christian Examiner (both print and digital) in four Southern California editions and one in Seattle/Tacoma. Other local/regional publications include Christian News Northwest in Oregon and southwestern Washington, and Kansas City Metro Voice (which also has a Topeka edition). Christian Family Publications is franchising throughout the Southeast print magazines that "spread positive, Christian information" about family issues.

While national secular media companies are venturing into localism, Christian ones do not seem to be doing so. Many have been barely hanging on in this tough economic environment, so few are able to develop local initiatives even if that were their inclination.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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