John Oliver and the Truth about Local News
Last week, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” perfectly panned the problem with the current newsroom environment. In the struggle to maintain subscribers and both print and online viewers, publishers have turned almost exclusively to producing digital content. As can be seen by the explosive growth of content producers such as Buzzfeed and Now This News, it’s almost never hard news that gets the clicks — it’s the stories that seem to pander to the lowest common denominator. As parodied in the episode, it’s the “cat that looks like a raccoon” that gets the editors excited, not proof of corruption in city hall.
As publishers continue to lose ad revenue, the first department to be led to the gallows is the local news team; the pool of consumers interested in what’s happening in a hyper-local market is much smaller than the group of people interested in what’s capturing national attention. Important information that directly impacts the communities these publishers are supposed to be working for is never relayed — instead, the communities get videos of “a cat that looks like a raccoon; or a raccoon that looks like a cat.”
One of the reasons we created Zero Slant was for this exact reason. News and events happening in local and regional markets were getting lost in newspapers’ inability to cover them. Although newspapers no longer had the bandwidth to cover these stories, we realized communities were already doing it themselves.
If breaking news happened — say, a shooting in the local mall, community members who were witnessing it were capturing the information in real-time and sharing on social media. In essence, this is even quicker than a local newsroom would be able to report it because the reporter would need to go to the site of the event, get the information from the local officials and quotes from witnesses, then return to their computers to write up the stories and post it to the publication’s website.
Social media is no longer just a venue for individuals to share cat memes and #foodie photos with friends.
People should be able to turn to the latest updates on events that have already taken place or are currently unfolding, but unfortunately, social media is not set up to allow this sort of discovery. Through the use of ZeroBot and our continued efforts to upgrade his ability to discern the importance of what’s being shared on social media, we’re hoping to bridge the gap that newspapers have created between consumers and local news.
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