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Finding National Stars to Cover the Hyperlocal

Using Robert Picard as my touchstone, earlier I wrote that too many journalists lack value. They are all but cogs in a machine.  However, my idea of a Representative Journalist is someone who would provide plenty of value for a Representative Journalism community. So much value that rather than hiring a kid right out of college, the community could hire a national expert.

Let’s take Dalton, a small city in Northwest Georgia. It is the home of Mohawk and several other carpet manufacturing companies. The aim would be to gather a community of 1,000 carpet manufacturing industry employees who want the finest locally oriented coverage possible of their industry. It would be an expert who knows more about the industry than almost anyone else.  An authoritative voice that produces traditional reporting, but also does white papers and original research that helps everyone locally to understand the industry and their place within it.

So could the community support that kind of reporter. I would think yes, in fact, there might  sub communities who would support more than one Representative Journalist. The rank and file workers might see the value via payoffs in better pay and better working conditions of having their own information font. We are not talking a booster, but simply a reporter/expert who provides so much valuable information on work conditions, industry pay standards and the industry as a whole from a labor point of view that the workers come to the negotiating table with superior information – a most powerful bargaining weapon.

Could you find one or two thousand people to form one or more Representative Journalism communities in or around Dalton? The numbers say yes. Here is information directly from a Georgia Trend magazine article:

  • The carpet and flooring industry employs more than 45,000 workers in Georgia with a payroll topping $4 billion – the largest of any manufacturing sector in the state.
  • The world’s four largest carpet companies, and seven of the 14 largest, are located in Georgia (Shaw Industries, Mohawk Industries, Beaulieu of America, Interface, Milliken, J&J Industries, Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings).
  • More than 80 percent of the U.S. carpet market – which supplies 45 percent of the world’s carpet – is controlled by mills located within a 65-mile radius of Dalton. That equals about $10 billion in business activity within a golden tufted circle.

The Representative Journalist could write of the immediate concerns of factory workers in Dalton and at the same time tell the bigger national or international story. In fact, the hyperlocal journalism would provide the steady income to allow the Representative Journalist to produce more national or international stuff. In the past that would have been side work, but in this model it would be built into what he or she does. The carpet workers would be getting their local story told by a national expert. By being local but going national or international too that reporter would be providing added value and would be compensated for it terms of money, prestige and reputation.

So let’s revisit the economics one more time, each community member pays $100, we gather 1000 of them. That’s $100,000. The network weaver, who assembles the community, gets a $10,000 in commission.  We’ll take $30,000 for overhead, editing and expenses. Remember the reporter/expert works out of his or her home so the overhead is low, and most of the expense money goes for travel. That leaves  $60,000 including health insurance for the reporter/expert. That’s the foundational pay. Unlike at local newspapers today, the Representative Journalism reporter/expert is encouraged to find national and international gigs too. In fact, it would be an employment condition.

Everyone wins. The reporter/expert gets a decent salary and national or international reputation. The folks working in the Dalton mills have one of the world’s foremost experts covering their local issues. Plus since it is a community, there is a constant exchange of information among all the community members and the Representative Journalist, thanks to our network weaver who is busy  strengthening industry worker ties via online and face-to-face meetings and conversations.

Next up I will be writing about an editing model to match this hyperlocal/national expert model.

5 Responses to “Finding National Stars to Cover the Hyperlocal”

  1. Ruth Ann Harnisch Says:

    What a logical idea!
    I will immediately begin thinking of how to make it a reality. (Perhaps a representational journalist for the field of coaching. Hmmmmmmm.)

  2. Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Tuesday squibs Says:

    [...] Finding National Stars to Cover the Hyperlocal. Len Witt continues his writings on representative journalism, this time suggesting high-powered journalists may be able to find a home doing hyperlocal coverage. If you haven’t read his previous posts on the repj idea, now might be a good time. [...]

  3. Barbara Iverson Says:

    Your idea made me think of another model that comes from the labor movement — the “lectors” or readers who were a fixture in cigar rolling factories for years. The workers chipped in, even to the point of paying the passage for a lector when they needed to bring one in.

    The lector read the newspapers and also fiction and philosophy and whatever as the workers rolled the cigars all day.

    If cigar rollers chipped in for the pleasure and benefits of having a reader, perhaps workers could be persuaded by some kind of representative journalist model. It is an interesting idea.

  4. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi Barbara:

    Thanks for the tip. Now that you mention it, I do remember a documentary about those readers. I am always looking for connections to the project. And this is a perfect one. Thanks again.

  5. Representative Journalism - Blog - Provide Great Journalists with Great Editors Says:

    [...] I have touted the idea of hiring super journalists, who provide so much good and new information that they create   value for their Representative [...]

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