Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Mega-Regional Media

Updating the Richard Longworth front, he is due to visit the Quad-Cities on Thursday (tomorrow) and he'll address the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Madison on Tuesday, April 22nd. Concerning the latter announcement, I'm intrigued with the Wisconsin Tech Council termed "I-Q Corridor" that stretches from Chicago to Minneapolis. This is similar to my suggestion that the Great Lakes mega-region, or whatever you want to call it, contains smaller-scale geographies that are economically coherent. I think it important that these corridors cross state boundaries in order to help deconstruct the parochial political divisions frustrating the Rust Belt's ability to deal with globalization.

Along those lines, check out the following paragraph from a recent article in the Boston Review about dealing with suburban blight:

A second conclusion is that many of the current political structures and leaders are either unable or unwilling to deal with these new realities. When you find the exceptions, like a reluctantly persuaded but then fully committed Mayor Ed Koch or a housing commissioner like Felice Michetti, fine. But waiting for most to act or blaming them when they don’t are often not constructive responses. This puts the burden of thinking and acting back on a new type of civic leader: a volunteer with a real following in a local community, but also with a range of analysis and understanding that crosses town or county or city boundaries. The renewal of most of the failed cities of the failed state of Ohio—Dayton, Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown, Sandusky, Lorain, and many others—depends on men and women who live in and care about those cities. But they will need to relate to leaders well beyond their own towns. And they will need to become a kind of ad hoc economic strategy team for their area, for their state, and for the struggling midwestern region described in Richard Longworth’s fine book, Caught in the Middle.

Of course, my one critique would be that the author stops just short of the kind of transformational geography I advocate. The "range of analysis" should extend across state borders as well, Youngstown being the exemplar of the benefits of that perspective. This scope of understanding finally brings me to the central point of this post, new media for the Great Lakes Mega-Region.

Mr. Longworth dropped by Rust Belt Bloggers to reply to our discussion about his idea for a mega-regional publication covering issues of globalization:

My original idea called for a Financial Times-type newspaper. I'm an old newspaper guy and this is the way I think. But this is 20th-century thinking, and we're talking about a publication to meet a 21st-century need. The consensus seems to be that a print newspaper wouldn't work, and some online or web publication is the way to go. This is probably right. But this begs the question:

What's the content and how can this be put together? The medium is not the message. The message is the message. We're talking about a Midwestern regional news source that delivers quality journalism, both from this region and from the rest of the world as it relates to this region. How do you do this?

First, with all respect to bloggers, blog are not the answer. Gathering and delivering quality news is hard work, and it's expensive. Bloggers can make valuable contributions -- in spotting stories, in giving local background, in correcting errors, in suggesting sources, frequently in contributing local stories. But good journalism isn't something that's done in one's spare time. It's full-time work, by professionals. In this case, it requires linking the global to the local, which means global journalism done by reporters who both understand the world and understand the local audience for which they're writing. Often, this sort of glocal connecting can only be done by professional editors who know both the global and the local.

In other words, we're talking real expenses. At some point, on-line publications are going to figure out how to make money from the web, to pay for their coverage. In the meantime, foundation grants or other funding may be the way to go.

Like Mr. Longworth, I don't consider blogging to be journalism and I share his concern about properly funding the venture. However, I do think that blogs are the best medium for knowledge exchange, which is the fundamental problem we are trying to address. I would welcome a Postindustrial Heartland publication dealing with economic globalization, but I disagree that we would need a professional journalist or editor to make the glocal connections. As someone who spends time each day surfing for stories relevant to Pittsburgh's economic development, there is plenty of fodder already in existence. Most of the articles are written by professional journalists and I even dabble in engaging academic research, something I contend I can do better than most journalists. For more about how contemporary geographies frustrate traditional media, give Dan Schultz's blog a read.

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