Social Media and Local News in Edmonton

My favorite media/journalism/news blogger is Jeff Jarvis. His blog, BuzzMachine, is a treasure trove of information and insight on how the web is transforming the world of news media. Jeff has spent a lot of time thinking about local news specifically, a topic I am very interested in. Yesterday he wrote a post summarizing his thoughts on where local news might go. These are the highlights for me:

“The next generation of local (news) won’t be about news organizations but about their communities.”

“News will emerge from networks.”

“Do what you do best and link to the rest will be a foundation of the future architecture of news.”

“News will find new forms past the article, which will include any media, wiki snapshots of knowledge, live reports, crowd reports, aggregation, curation, data bases, and other forms not yet created.”

I encourage you to read the entire post, it’s definitely worth it.

Thinking about Jeff’s post made me wonder what local news organizations here in Edmonton are doing to prepare for the future. Are they focused on communities? Are they creating networks? Are they specializing and linking elsewhere? Are they supporting news beyond the article?

In general, I think the answer to those questions is no. An examination of how local news organizations are using social media is somewhat encouraging, however. Why look at social media? Generally speaking, I think blogs, social networks, etc., address all four areas – communities, networks, linking & sharing, and life beyond the article.

These are some of the traditional sources for local news here in Edmonton, with links to their social media activities:

As you can see, there are quite a few organizations that still haven’t gotten their feet wet with social media (unless I missed some links – one thing all these sites have in common is that they are terribly messy and hard to navigate). The Journal appears to be the most active, with a Facebook application, Twitter account, and blogs and podcasts on its site. The relatively new iNews880 is similarly active. All the organizations offer RSS feeds except for Global Edmonton, Citytv Edmonton, and SEE Magazine (the Edmonton Sun recently added feeds).

These days, I get most of my local news from four main sources:

The trend I have noticed is that breaking news starts with the traditional organizations but is spread by individuals through services like Twitter, Connect2Edmonton, and Facebook (and good old-fashioned word of mouth too). Organizations like The Journal have people dedicated to gathering the news, so it makes sense that they’d be the ones to break the news (most of the time). They could definitely be doing a better job of interacting with the community and forming networks online to spread that news, however. And they pretty much do nothing beyond the article, at least at the moment (heck the Journal won’t even hyperlink URLs inside their articles).

Take yesterday’s story about the new arena concept, for instance. I first heard about the news on C2E. I understand that Citytv was the first traditional source to pick up on the story. I spread the news via Twitter and my blog, and others did the same. Today articles appeared in The Journal, on CBC Edmonton’s site, and elsewhere, but they didn’t really offer anything new, and they didn’t provide links to the images, video, maps, or other bits of information readers might be interested in.

I like the vision for local news that Jeff Jarvis has suggested, but it seems to me that the local organizations aren’t leading the way into that future. Instead, individuals are dragging them into it. I wonder if that will always be the case?

My love-hate relationship with Connect2Edmonton: Twitter & FriendFeed to the rescue?

connect2edmonton Connect2Edmonton (C2E for short) is a community website serving Edmontonians that launched on March 30th, 2006. On March 4th of this year it surpassed 3000 registrations, and announced that it receives 45,000 unique visitors per month. Those are pretty good numbers for a website all about Alberta’s capital city!

You can find all sorts of great stuff on the forums at C2E. Users post about construction projects, sports, new restaurants, you name it. Sometimes they simply post links to articles from the Journal or the Sun, other times users are breaking news at C2E. The wealth of frequently updated information on Edmonton is the main reason I love C2E.

Here’s what I hate about it: C2E looks and feels and smells like it was built in 1996. There are quite a few “Web 1.0” aspects to the site, such as the old school message boards, the lack of permalinks, and the horribly ugly URLs for the pages that do have permalinks. Instead of blogs, they have “columns”. Thank goodness the site has RSS, or I’d probably never use it.

For the moment, C2E seems to have an edge in that it has the community. I wonder how long that will last though? There are so many other up-and-coming services that could easily make C2E nothing more than a fond memory. Here’s a couple of examples that I’m involved with:

Edmonton’s Twitter Community
I still think that Twitter is changing the world, one tweet at a time. It’s transforming the way news breaks, and is making real-time conversations extremely public. Here in Edmonton we have a really strong Twitter community. We’ve had a Tweetupfollow us here – and we’ve loosely organized ourselves with things like the #yeg hashtag. Imagine if C2E users posted to Twitter with the #yeg hashtag instead of to the C2E forums! Others could reply without needing an account, they could get notifications to their mobile devices, through the API to other applications, etc.

The Edmonton Room at FriendFeed
Another thing I’ve created recently is the Edmonton room at FriendFeed. Anyone can join and start sharing messages, links, and of course comments and likes. And thanks to a recently added feature, I can add RSS feeds to the room so that entries automatically appear. So far I’ve added the Edmonton Journal and a couple of filtered blog feeds (such as the Edmonton tag on my blog). Again, this goes beyond C2E – instead of finding the Journal article and posting it to the forums, they automatically appear in the Edmonton room, ready for commenting and sharing. (I suppose I could add the C2E feed, but that’s beside the point.)

What both of these examples highlight, more than the “Web 1.0” look of C2E, is that it’s still a relatively closed system. Twitter and even FriendFeed are both much more open systems. They encourage data to be shared freely, and as a result, they are the platforms on which the news engines of the future are being built. Want an example? Check out NewsJunk.

I’m not saying that we need to abandon Connect2Edmonton. Instead, C2E should embrace Twitter, FriendFeed, and other services to make itself more open. C2E is a great service for the Edmonton community, but I know it could be so much better.

UPDATE (6/27/2008): I just tried to add the C2E RSS feed for Columns to the Edmonton FriendFeed room, only to find that the feed lacks datestamps, lacks authors, includes entries in a random order, and is otherwise useless. EPIC FAIL.