Twitter as local news station? Yes, please

commentary Who needs Ron Burgundy when you can have a 24-7 feed of updates on the most interesting news and events happening around you?

Ron Burgundy
Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy. Evan Agostini/Getty Images
If Twitter looked inward to bring me the most entertaining or educating information unfolding around me, I'd be one happy camper. The company is in the unique position of showing me what my neighbors, and even my local newscasters, think is most interesting right now.

The information network may already be testing such a tool for local discovery . The company reportedly wants to surface the most relevant tweets nearby, as determined by spikes in related activity. Twitter even piloted the feature in Boston around the time of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, according to AllThingsD.

The Boston example, though an extreme case, has me thinking about Twitter's nearby ambitions as a stand-in for your local TV station. Twitter's station would be less filtered -- you'll have to decide whether that's good or bad -- and rich with information on unfolding sporting events, neighborhood pool parties, timely happy hours, and breaking local news, of course.

It's no secret that local news stations aren't relevant in the same way they used to be. Programs are locked into specific morning and evening time slots. They continue to feed their cities with team coverage of home invasions and cat rescues. And at the end of a broadcast, anchors with Ron Burgundy-like gusto often chuckle about nonsense before wishing you a good day or night.

Twitter can do better. It already gives these very same newscasters a way to connect with their viewers in a more human fashion. The platform serves as an extension of broadcasts, and gives stations the opportunity to fill the void between shows and take ownership of stories that develop outside of prime time. If only I had a better way to see great local-news tweets when I was in the mood for them. It's not as if anyone wants or needs push notifications for every tweet from every local personality they follow.

Local TV news ratings, while in decline, haven't exactly tanked, but all evidence points to future generations getting their neighborhood updates elsewhere. The percentage of people ages 18 to 26 who watch the local news has dropped significantly in recent years. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found a 14 percent decline in viewership since 2006 among surveyed respondents in that demographic.

But our appetite for news remains strong. Pew also found that 50 percent of people got their news from one or more digital forms on an average day. That's just below the percentage of people who said they got their news from cable, local, or network television.

Twitter's ability to play automatic local newscaster will surely depend on members' willingness to share their location with their tweets, which is not a given. Perhaps a local discovery and search product would be reason enough to encourage some people to turn on location for tweets on a case-by-case basis. Why wouldn't a vendor selling vegetables at a local farmer's market, for instance, want to make her tweets immediately discoverable to people nearby?

Nearby information, fast, is a pitch with international appeal as well. If Twitter can show me what to eat, drink, or see when I'm out and about or traveling, then the company may be able to connect the dots between as-its-happening information and local search in a way that's more accessible than Yelp or Foursquare.

Whatever the case, I know I'll be tuning in.

 

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