Hyperlocalization of news killing messengers


Note: This opinion-piece is not intended to be a perspective representative of any one group or collection of persons.

There are dozens of ways conservative corporate media squelches independent news sources. It includes labeling real news as fake, giving respectable journalists a bad name, and trivializing journalism as a profession.

Most journalists don’t set off to write fake news as a matter of fact unless they are working for a magazine that specializes in advancing distortion. Distortion benefits far-right groups more often than it does the established news media since their readership relies on an almost fanatical following. How else to amass a “Unite the Right 2.0” rally than by playing up fake Christian identity politics?

Of course, the same may be said of the left, except that socialist groups tend not to advance hate or intolerance as doctrine since it interferes with the politics of inclusionism.

Fanaticism in its ugliest form blinds people from seeking the most peacable solutions possible, and pursuing practical approaches that don’t lay waste to the natural jewels of the planet.

Arguably, white supremacists’ goal of defending white civil rights will only muddy the waters for Black Lives Matter. Both groups will be cycling their precious energy back towards the past instead of addressing much needed across-the-board cultural change in the present. For instance, can we for once collectively consider how to change humanity’s course in valuing cars over people? Can we become more willing to share with our poor brothers and sisters around the world by allowing them to retain their way of life if they so wish?

Maybe this is why Tejal Garg’s essay, “The Search for Humanity,” strikes a chord for Asian Americans Advancing Justice. At Medium.com, Garg writes:

Amidst this unsettling political climate, there’s one thing we can do to stay positive and remind ourselves why we’re fighting but also why there’s hope. We can celebrate our diverse backgrounds and the backgrounds of those around us.

When there are glaring omissions of balance and connections to the larger picture in the mainstream media, we should feel free to question why. It is not acceptable that niche media markets are used as tools to stifle critical global news discussion. It is a manner of blinding when mass media silos are used to restrict the public’s right to know. It is a crime when global watchdogs such as WikiLeaks are shut down or hounded mercilessly.

The concept of hyperlocalism relies on limiting the geography and content, so that the marketing becomes tailored to specific communities. For instance, a popular message board in Maine became such an effective way to organize as well as grow a mass-marketing tool that the owner became a full-time message board administrator including building message boards for many other small rural communities.

Acording to Entreproducer.com:

Hyperlocal websites provide content related to a very limited geographic area, such as a town, neighborhood, or even a single zip code within a city. The content can range from local news and politics, to information about schools, restaurants, and other businesses in the area.

While one can see the attraction of a small town website with updates on community events and meetings, and the speed and universality in sharing, it can be taken to an extreme. When a newspaper restricts itself to hyperlocalization, too often there is in effect a lockdown of what may not be shared.

Is it not covert censorship when a newspaper fails to relate how its drought relates to global climate change? How about a community newspaper that restricts homelessness coverage to only area shelters? Should the definition of a good citizen be limited to being just a well-meaning local citizen? What is to stop the definition of well-meaning from morphing into conforming and obedient? Something about this reminds one of Gone with the Wind or the gentleman’s cigar store annex post-Civil War South.

Another uncomfortable reminder of the dangers of delimitations on freedom of expression is when the lockdown on local news is based on a tacit arrangement serving to channel readers wanting more extensive news coverage back towards the national chains. One is conditioned to accept dreary conventionalism serving to condone mainstream media, similar to how fashion magazines condone color-coordinates, or how nursing homes only display trade magazines and romance fiction for reading.

It also reinforces how increasingly insular all people are becoming, for instance, in deriving most of their news from exclusionary Facebook feeds or privately shared content. There is an awful irony in that Facebook is supposed to be about advancing social media, not the devolution of social discussions into popularity like-or-dislike competitions.

This could be why Chamath Palihapitya, a former Facebook executive, shared regret for his part in building tools that destroy the social fabric of how society works. According to The Guardian, at a Stanford Business school event his remarks included:

The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.

Not only are we becoming programmed to prioritize artificial intelligence as news and information facilitator, but we are more susceptible to news that has not been fully vetted, contains factual errors, or spreads polarization.

Is media capable of eroding the core foundations of how people behave and interrelate with one another? The hyperlocal news editor’s defense might be: Well, there’s nothing like fake news here, since the messengers ain’t around waiting to be killed no more.”

To which twain parries with a jarringly humane and caring thought supplied by Tejal Garg:

Can you remember the last time you turned to your friends or coworkers and shared with them a piece of your cultural heritage? When was the last time someone shared a piece of theirs with you?

While hyperlocalization and social networking communities are intended to improve their revenue from streamlined advertising and attract would-be investors, the reverse may also be true. For instance, what a local magazine or newspaper omits is almost as important as what is displayed. If the picture-perfect small town wants to attract investment, it may very well omit any photos of closed-up stores, run-down farms, people living in boarded up homes, and heaven forbid, people of color struggling with failure.

When Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler and his supporters do show up at Lafayette Square in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on the weekend of August 11-12, 2018, they will undoubtedly be met by many Black Lives Matters and other immigrants rights activists of all stripes. Whether or not the National Park Service can keep the storm under control will make all the difference in the world for those concerned about a clamp-down or shut down of the park altogether.

If we are to get through these rocky political times, liberals and progressives must authentically unite in fighting back all forms of discrimination by leadership whether it’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his oppositional history against civil rights or Dr. Ben Carson in his ongoing efforts to make war on HUD. And especially because these leaders’ actions don’t involve just the locals.

Image: Garden mosaic by Sue Kershaw, Mosaic Artist