It sounds like news coverage based on geographic location might be less important in years to come. Is that right? And if that's the case, what coverage options are there other than geographical ones?

That's probably right. News coverage of specifically geographical locations (cities, state government, etc.) will continue, but will probably decline in amount if not importance.

Despite the struggles of local news media outlets and the trend toward nationalization that we discussed in the previous question, some of the most fascinating media experiments happening today are happening locally. Billy Penn in Philadelphia is a new startup focused on young people in the city who have traditionally not found journalism to be all that appealing to them. They are doubling down on aggregating traditional news sources, conducting their own original local news reporting, and embracing a mobile-first distribution strategy. And there are other journalism outlets like the Texas Tribune (at the state level) and the New Jersey News Network (at the local level) that are pioneering exciting innovations. The Texas Tribune has a robust statehouse reporting operation, funded through a combination of live events, foundation grants, and individual donations. The NJ News Network, for its part, acts as a Montclair University-based clearinghouse for local journalism organizations to share tips and back-end resources. We are likely to see more of these kinds of experiments in the future.

But even beyond the question of local, national, or international coverage, the future is likely to bring more and more non-location-specific news services. Instead, we'll probably see more and more digital news arranged around the overlapping interests of small groups of people, as well as elite niches.

One thing the Internet does quite well is that it allows communities to come together around topics of shared interest, regardless of where the people who make up those communities happen to live. Imagine a small group of people with an extremely rare disease. Under previous communication regimes, these people would have been scattered all across the country or world and might not have ever come to learn there were other people out there like them. With the Internet, on the other hand, these scattered individuals can unite to share important information, and perhaps even learn enough about the illness they face that they can pool lifesaving information! And digital technologies don't just affect how we learn about rare illnesses. It affects how we learn about news and current information, too. Because news organizations (and advertisers) can now aggregate eyeballs from all over the world on particular topics, they can make a viable business out of catering to the coverage of very specific subjects that aren't bound by geographical location. And a lot of times, these communities of interest shade into elite niches—in other words, folks who share particular interests and values that might be the provenance of the elite. If you care a lot about videogames, or a particular esoteric issue in the foreign policy world, or your college rugby team, the digital news ecosystem has made it so much easier for you to have a place to go to learn about this stuff and for the organizations who provide it to make money doing so.

Beyond niche communities, even general interest news and information sites seem increasingly geographically displaced. Take Buzzfeed. What specific locality does Buzzfeed serve? English-speakers, probably. And almost certainly a swath of mostly urban-dwelling young Americans. But beyond that, Buzzfeed really isn't tied into a particular city, town, or even country in the same way news organizations of the past were. Instead, Buzzfeed embraces what we might call a "high traffic/high prestige" content strategy—posting an endless number of silly lists and quizzes, but also engaging in the collection and analysis of serious news. In other words, Buzzfeed drives a ton of its readership traffic because it produces an incredible number of whimsical quizzes, animated graphics (called graphic image files, or gifs), and lists such as "Ten Signs You Were Born in the 70s." But at the same time, Buzzfeed reports a lot of hard news, including original reporting from Washington DC, New York, Silicon Valley, and global "hot spots" around the world. This disparity—the silliness of a majority of their content combined with a niche of serious original news reporting—allows Buzzfeed to generate huge traffic numbers (good for bulk advertising) but also attract an elite audience that appeals to top brand advertisers in a different way.

In both cases, Buzzfeed is certainly not tied to a geographic locale the way a lot of news of the twentieth century was.

 
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