We Are the Gatekeepers: the Impact of Local + Social

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An interesting thing happened to me. I got a call from a restaurant that recently opened in town whose website I had developed. They were all excited to tell me the latest news…their first review had appeared on Yelp! I replied, “That’s great! Or is it…?” Yes, it was — they’d gotten a friendly and fair 4-star review. That was the news.

A simple exchange to be sure, but to be perfectly honest, I was slightly taken aback. Why?

For some reason, I still had this idea in the back of my head that a positive review from a prestigious restaurant critic in a local newspaper would be something to write home about, whereas a review on Yelp is hardly worth all such excitement. Me, a veteran of the Internet industry, somebody who’s never even subscribed to a newspaper since I came of age in the digital economy — why was I thinking like this? Somehow, I was subcounsionly under the impression that traditional journalism trumps the new online world of local + social. But, really, it’s the other way around. Jouralism is still with us, it’s just morphing into a very different animal. Before, people would trust the restuarant critic to tell them what’s new and hot on the local scene. Now who do people trust?

Reviews on Yelp. Maybe Google Places. Friends’ recommendations on Facebook, or Twitter. Or Foursquare. Maybe a citzen journalist’s local blog. Or a post on a hyperlocal community news site such as Patch.

Whether we always realize it or not, the big publishers are no longer the gatekeepers. We are. What a profound shift from just a decade or so ago!

With any major shift in culture, however, there are challanges. Before, as long as a restaurant catered to the whims of a critic or two to get that positive writeup in the paper, they might be safe. Now, the performance needs to be consistent because your critic could be anybody, anytime. Sometimes the criticism is unfair. Not everyone is reasonable. Sometimes you simply don’t have the time to monitor all the social channels and local hangouts in the digital space in order to respond to feedback.

There are challanges for traditional publishers as well. How do they maintain their cachet and retain eyeballs for their content? That is a question every past “local” gatekeeper is now having to find an answer to, fast.

Maybe it’s simpler than some realize: content is king. Create great content and deliver it to me in the format I want. But that is another article for another time.

Jared White is Editor-in-Chief of North Bay Startup. He has worked in the field of technology journalism for over 15 years and headed up several online blogs and media properties before founding NBS. He is also the owner and Creative Director at Siteshine, a digital media agency located in Santa Rosa, CA. You can reach him on Twitter @jaredcwhite.

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