Sunday, February 21, 2010

When does Hyperlocal News = Hyper-Nosy?

I'm a fan of my neighborhood news blog. It tells me when new restaurants open, tracks coyote sightings and reports what caused the latest traffic jam on the bridge. If you live in the 'hood, that stuff matters.
The down side of hyperlocal news is that having a public platform can turn some folks into proverbial neighborhood busybodies of the worst sort.
Not long ago, a controversy broke out on after someone complained that a new homeowner was chopping down a large monkey puzzle tree. Soon a photo and story were posted on the blog -- minus an interview with the owner of the tree -- generating heated comments from all sides. The brouhaha attracted the local TV stations. A week later the owner was facing a fine for failing to get a permit before removing the tree.
 Welcome to the neighborhood.
Whether the tree's owner was right or wrong is beside the point. It's what this says about how we treat our neighbors that creeps me out. Whatever happened to knocking on the door and talking to someone who's doing something you disagree with? Why publicly out someone just because you can? 
When I worked as a reporter, there were checks and balances built into how we covered the news. Rule number one was get both sides. Fairness demands it. 
Stories also had to meet a certain level of newsworthiness to justify taking up space in the newspaper let alone dragging someone into the public spotlight. My editor would have laughed me out of the newsroom if I filed a story about somebody who cut down a tree -- on their own property.
But that was then, and this is now. Lurking on every corner is a wannabe reporter with a cell phone and the ability to turn a neighborhood spat or a mistake into a full-blown incident.
That's not hyperlocal news -- that's hyper-nosy.
(Photo: by Zimpenfish)

1 comment:

  1. Good point. It's fine if you've tried to address the issue and gotten nowhere, but the Web should *not* be the first resort.