There is no substitute for journalism. For-profit legacy newspapers may no longer muster enough reporting capacity to cover their communities — especially if they’re owned by a corporate chain or a hedge fund. But independent journalism with reporters, editors and ethical standards are fundamental to providing the public with the news and information it needs to govern itself in a democracy.
Today we are seeing an explosion of independent local news outlets, mostly digital, mostly nonprofit. It’s happening in the Boston area and across the country. Yet a different kind of vision, stretching back to the earliest days of the web, persists: that members of the public can take charge of at least some of their own information needs. We used to call these people citizen journalists, and it became fashionable to sneer when that vision fell short of its most idealistic expectations. Yet it persists in some quarters and — harnessed properly — could still prove useful to grassroots democracy and storytelling.
Last week a report called “The Roadmap for Local News: An Emergent Approach to Meeting Civic Information Needs” was released by three respected media thinkers — Elizabeth Green of Chalkbeat, Darryl Holliday of City Bureau and Mike Rispoli of Free Press. Based on interviews with 51 thought leaders in local news, the report calls for reorienting ourselves from journalism to civic information in solving the local news crisis.