"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
We were reminded of this conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty while reading a recent blog post entitled What does "Being Local" mean, anyway?
Though not penned by Lewis Caroll, the post could very well have been spoken at the Mad Hatter’s tea party:
What does "local" mean when everything local is available from everything which is not?...There is no longer any such thing as "local" as we traditionally use the term....The definition of "local" is both expanding and shrinking at the same time.
Pure pundit gibberish.
We don’t dispute the importance of localism. Radio’s localism is its key to success in the digital age. Failure to exploit radio’s greatest strength could severely imperil radio’s resurgence. The trend within some radio groups to systematically eliminate localism by programming at the national level troubles us. The post, however, completely misses the point.
So let us pull up a chair to explore the madness that this Hatter has brought to the party.
Let’s begin with the word Local. New media pundits love to proclaim with great gravitas that digital changes everything–even the English language. They like to co-opt words and redefine them to suit their new world view. It might have worked for Humpty Dumpty, but not here.
The English word local comes from the Latin word locus meaning place. Local refers to or pertains to a particular place here or close-by.
A local landmark, a local crime, a local neighborhood. These things refer to something physically nearby. But local doesn’t have to be physical. Local history and tradition are not physical, but they are linked to here because they happened here.
That’s what local has always meant. The Internet has not, nor can it change what being local means.
As a child growing up on the west coast I would stay up late at night to listen to WABC. The fact that I can now listen to a stream of WABC hasn’t moved New York any closer.
The delivery mechanism has changed. That’s all. The Internet has not changed what local means. Local means here.
But this is how Internet punditry works. Today EVERYTHING is changing. EVERYTHING is going to be different. Even the very meaning of a word like local will be transformed by iPads, Pandora, and the Internet.
Don’t believe it.
A local newspaper, local television station, or local radio station might report on a local news story. The story is local, but so is the source of the news. It is the source--where it came from, that matters. That is why local radio has a tremendous advantage over national audio sources--if it does not abandon this key strength.
Last year AOL bought Patch and Going, two companies that they say operate in the local space. In addition to repurposing old words, new media love to invent new words and phrases. It isn’t clear why we needed a phrase like local space, but AOL gave it to us.
AOL too seems to have slipped through the Looking Glass because here’s how AOL announced the acquisitions:
AOL today announced two acquisitions in the local space: Patch Media, a local news and information platform aimed at serving local towns and communities and Going, a local platform for people to discover and share information about things to do in a number of leading cities across the country. Both Patch and Going offer local experiences, content and self-service applications for consumers and advertisers.
This is how Tim Armstrong, AOL’s Chairman and CEO explained the acquisition:
Local remains one of the most disaggregated experiences on the Web today -- there's a lot of information out there but simply no way for consumers to find it quickly and easily. It's a space that's prime for innovation and an area where AOL has a significant audience and a valuable mapping service in MapQuest.
Going forward, local will be a core area of focus and investment for AOL. The acquisitions of Patch and Going will help us build out our local network further with excellent local services that enable people to stay better informed about what's going on in their neighborhood.
AOL believes localism is one of the most disaggregated experiences and most promising white space on the Internet. Talk about gibberish.
New media people always think they can do something better than local media.
In an internal memo to AOL staff, the company declared that it wanted to be the global and local leader in sourcing, creating, producing and delivering high quality content. And how are they going to achieve this level of quality with local content? They are going to hire a bunch of journalism grads.
This is how a national company is going to conquer the Internet white space of localism--with grad students.
AOL will invest a tremendous amount of money in these companies, and they will fail.
Patch and Going will fail because while Internet companies are marvels at developing delivery systems, they are dreadful creators of content. They can develop generic music products, but beyond creating digital jukeboxes, Internet companies function solely as parasites aggregators of traditional media.
No, despite the ramblings of new media Mad Hatters, digital media and the Internet are not going to conquer or even redefine the meaning of localism. People have been using national sources to learn about local things for a long time. People may use weather.com or Google News, but that does not make either source local.
In part 2 we’ll explain why radio does not compete with Internet companies in localism. It competes with local newspaper and local television. And unless it understands this and starts to respond, it will find itself losing even more ground to these two media.