Is Tech Trying to Take Over Local News?

February 7, 2018 - 5 minutes read

At its core, social media functions as a modern avenue for information exchange. This is a huge (if not the main) reason why this technology niche is affecting so many facets of our lives. One new trend springing up across social media platforms is the integration of a location-based feature to show you content that’s more connected to your local community.

A More Relevant Front Page?

Perhaps first in this foray for social media giants, Reddit, the popular news aggregation and discussion site, began testing the concept of tailoring its home page based on the visitor’s location only a few months ago. Before this update, users loading up the main page of Reddit would see a list of hyperlinks leading to forum-like discussions of everything from cute cat GIFs to an obscure fact that a user learned that day.

The home page still has this type of content, but now integrates it with categories based on your location. For example, if you’re in India, you’ll probably see user-submitted posts from the “r/India” and “r/cricket” communities. You are also free to change your location to anywhere else in the world to see relevant content to the selected area.

Known to be one of the first places that breaking news gets exposure, the app development company proclaims itself to be the “front page of the Internet,” and many see this new localized feature as a way to simultaneously keep that title and users engaged.

Your New Local News Bulletin

Google recently announced its own unique take on local news. Called Bulletin, it’s a platform that allows anyone to publish news through blogging, images, and video. Uploaded posts by users become visible in Google’s results, so people searching for local current events can easily find them. The San Francisco development giant’s main objective with this new outlet is to emphasize “hyperlocal community news from citizen journalists.”

Budding journalists in Oakland, California and Nashville, Tennessee are the first that get to try Bulletin out. Users not only have the ability to continuously update their feed, but they can also see statistics on their viewership. Aside from exposure, other incentives for consistently reporting are unclear at the moment.

An Algorithm Optimized for Local Outlets?

Facebook also announced plans to tweak its algorithm to start circulating news from local outlets in its News Feed. Many people perceive this move to be a calculated refocus from national political issues back to personal interactions. It’s also believed that this move may also help with impeding any influence, propaganda, or interference from entities with ulterior motives.

The social media platform explains the basic concept behind the update: “We identify local publishers as those whose links are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area. If a story is from a publisher in your area, and you either follow the publisher’s Page or your friend shares a story from that outlet, it might show up higher in News Feed.”

Engagement at an Industry’s Expense

There are only half as many newspaper jobs as there were 15 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many critics of the above-mentioned announcements feel that these tech titans partially responsible for this decline now seem intent on keeping local reporting alive. Essentially, they’re skeptical of the motivations behind these moves and think that, as usual, these companies are after user engagement, not enlightenment about current events.

These critics support their argument with the fact that all of these companies are leaning on users to report, and this sort of guerilla news blogging could never replace the integrity that established local reporters provide. They also believe that this inherently opens the opportunity for fake news and different kinds of platform abuse. At this point, it’s unclear how Google and Facebook plan to moderate their news features for accuracy, but it’s definitely a necessity.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,