I’ve only seen a couple of mentions of this term on the internet, mainly derogatory comments aimed at my miscreant colleagues in the fourth estate, as if “garage” equalled “gutter”.

But I think “garage journalism” is a good name. We should rub it down, respray it and apply new transfers so that it can be re-used to describe the new emergent forms of journalism: citizen journalism, hyper-local journalism and the rest of small-unit production in the long tail.

Aside from what is happening on the web, I have personally been involved in some of this hyper-local journalism in recent years, but using old-fashioned print. Moreover, just last week I was excited to see examples of that same model being copied in an adjacent neighbourhood. We’re talking very small community magazines delivered for nothing door to door, produced by volunteers with the support of local business. Not about real-estate, but real life. When I walked into the Indian takeaway, the very young proprietor was insistent that I take a copy. Had one come through the door? he asked. It should have, but I should take one away anyway. Published by the local school, in partnership with small shops in the “city village”, I had not thought that the demographic would be attractive enough. But the businesses, Gawd bless ‘em, seem to have got behind it.

Eventually, I’m sure, the same crew that are putting it together will be able to develop local blog-based news, and, who knows?, maybe even a YouTube/BlipTV based TV channel that would cover the village fĂȘte and the combined schools expedition up the local high point. The magazine will seed that online local audience as it emerges and matures. And the fact that we are all filming ourselves doing things locally will make those things seem more important, and I suspect better supported by the community. The local will become even more salient. There is a widely reported Belgian community TV experiment I’m already aware, although it uses traditional cable, I think.

As the video below shows, the idea probably is not so new. It could be said to have its antecedents in the “country” newspapers of the US, where the producer of such micro-local news was perhaps a local printer, for whom publishing a local news sheet did not constitute a full living, and so this had to be supplemented with contract printing. It’s good for journalists to reflect that a fully-paid up salaried profession may not be the future, was not always the past and may not even be an accurate representation of the present any longer.

What struck me about this informational newsreel was the range of tasks the local publisher was required to have technical knowledge of, in contrast to his municipal counterpart. The point the film makes is that this type of publisher must know all aspects of his business to succeed: from reporting, gathering advertising, setting type to printing. To quote, about 8 mins in, contrasting the skills needed of this country newsman with his urban contemporary:-

All this knowledge and experience seems a great deal to ask of one man but he leads a happy life and takes pride in the fact that he is in business for himself.

The publisher of a city paper has the responsibility of running a large organization. His is a good position, and one you might do well to aim for.

These days the small-town publisher would be learning social media, digital photography/video, taxonomy and SEO, and probably worrying (like me) when, or if, he should get round to learning Ruby. How much to err toward the professionalism of Adobe? How much to plunge into the messy ingenuity of open source plug-ins?

Although blogging in some ways needs no more than a simple WordPress, Typepad or Blogspot account to get going, publishing is always bound to get more sophisticated as the experimental possibilities increase, and those of us who want to will start to tinker in search of something more presentable, goofy, entertaining, or even just as a self-distraction. It seems to me that a creative form of journalism now needs to be recognized that is akin to the garage inventor, the garage band, the 1930s sci-fi fanmags or ’70s punk fanzines. To the initiated, the concept of blogging lacks sufficient differentiation.

At least it goes some way to explain the head-scratching ‘hobby’ that hundreds of thousands of writers/publishers are going through either in search of their own satisfaction, to fulfil some community need, or find some elusive business model that starts the cash rolling in. I suspect a good many of us are a mixture of all three, and don’t know whether what will come out at the end will be a piece of fine Chippendale, or some ill-fitting shelving from which a much-prized objet (our reputation for level-headedness perhaps) will later become dislodged. As with any DIY project, it is not clear at the outset what one’s real level of skill is, how much it needs to expand, and whether it will be encouraged, admired or even tolerated by spouse and hungry family, let alone friends.

But, above all else, it seems very clear that, just as with ’60s tech, or ’70s punk, some delectable new flavours will ultimately bubble up from what might look from the wrong angle to be a rather unappetising stochastic soup.

Here is the video:

And just to pinch ourselves before we get too romantic about the charm of the local, go here to Wikipedia where you’ll find a clip of Peter Sellers adopting a similar narrative tone for comedic rather than documentary purposes to highlight a place, Bal-ham, where I was happy once to consider myself a resident. Gateway to the South, indeed.

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