In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Give me the hyperlocal news

I’ve been trying to come up with a word for reporting the news of a small place. Fortunately somebody else has. I read an article recently about the new trend toward hyperlocal web sites and blogs. Apparently it's catching on.

But hyperlocal reporting isn’t new. Local newspapers used to devote columns to the daily comings and goings of its readership, no matter how seemingly trivial. For example, Allison Mitcham records these snippets from the Shelburne Gazette and Coastguard in 1913: “Mrs. Martha Snow returned home (to Gunning Cove) after a pleasant visit with friends at McNutt’s Island,” and “Mr. George H. Rapp of McNutt’s Island was successful in killing five ducks at one shot and wounding two or three more one day last week,” and “A party of young folks from McNutt’s Island called on friends here (Gunning Cove) on Sunday afternoon.”

This level of local reporting gradually went away as newspapers filled up with syndicated column inches, and then as local newspapers themselves began to disappear. Nowadays, even if they appear to be local, we know that the papers are often owned by vast media conglomerates. Interest in the intensely local inevitably wanes beside more compelling needs like the bottom line.

What is new – though somehow it seems kind of ho-hum already, such is the speed with which we adjust to revolutionary events – is how far such old-style hyperlocal reportage can now reach: as far as the internet can travel. So that a cast-off approach to message is now being resurrected and transformed by its new medium, the cloud.

Here on the island we have plenty of access to national and international news and we are saving all kinds of trees in the process. Though funnily enough, now that we heat entirely with wood we actually need newspapers to start our fire in the morning. And here’s where it gets complicated, since saving trees means that we are also contributing to the current painful retrenchment of local pulp mills and to the decline of the very newspapers that we can read so conveniently online. This is one of many instances in which The Simple Life crashes into The Law of Unintended Consequences.

But increasingly I realize that the news I read in other sources doesn’t get to the important stuff. It doesn’t tell me who visited the lighthouse last weekend, or how Lyndon is recuperating from his accident. It doesn’t track the hummingbirds’ northward migration, so I’ll know when I can begin looking out for them, or report on how the rhubarb is doing in various competitive patches across the harbour. It’s like being able to zoom into the highest level of magnification on Google Earth. I want to know as much as I can about this small place which is so insignificant when seen from a larger perspective yet up close teems with interest and meaning, like every other small place in the big wide world.

Many years ago a few young Van Buskirk cousins created a newspaper just for McNutt’s Island, which they distributed throughout the summer into their extended family’s various camp mailboxes. I have not seen any copies of this newspaper, but from what I hear it covered the local news with enthusiasm and attention to detail. Its legend lives on, and so I hope to keep alive its spirit of reporting from a hyperlocal perspective. And of course I'm very glad to be part of an exciting new trend.

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