As everyone – outside of North Korea – knows by now, the Internet caused a massive change in the way we consume news. Legacy media – like newspapers and even local television channels – have struggled to adapt for almost two decades now. And about a decade ago, the advent of social media, such as Facebook, threw another curveball at the mainstream media. Into this seismic disruption stepped new media, begat and raised by the Internet and savvy to its ways.
Locally, new media was and is New Bedford Guide – which has become an almost ubiquitous presence in our daily online lives. It’s nothing short of a phenomenon on the Web and has become a behemoth as its growth has mirrored that of all social media.
It’s loved and valued by many – and also looked down on by many. Being savvy in the dark arts of cyberspace means knowing how to conjure up some click-bait. That’s the outrageous headline or post that grabs your eyeballs as fast and furiously as a car wreck. Even if you hate it, you can’t turn away.
Crime as click-bait
Too often in revitalizing cities, crime is click-bait. In New Bedford that click-bait is as dangerous to the city as any narcotic. It perpetuates a negative stereotype and reinforces old prejudices. “White Flight” – the term coined to describe the mass migration of urban dwellers to the suburbs – was largely fueled by a racially-tinged attitude that “other” people were moving into “our” neighborhoods and bringing crime with them. The “others” largely being black or Latino.
So, it was of significance this week that New Bedford Guide announced a major change in their posting policy. From their website:
“Statistically crime is down 10% in New Bedford for each of the past two years, but if you follow social media you would think the opposite is true. At New Bedford Guide, we report the daily crime that occurs in New Bedford and these posts go viral more than most stories on social media. At New Bedford Guide we are looking to significantly change how we do business by only reporting the significant regional crime stories and stop posting the less significant, daily ones. (Emphasis added.)
“We feel that this will significantly boost the positive perception of New Bedford and make New Bedford a better place to do business which will help the local economy. As we all know, a better economy reduces crime.
“Our goal from this day forward is to show the best of New Bedford, not the worst. We hope you will support us in this effort.”
And I say, hats off to New Bedford Guide. Because in New Bedford, the constant drumbeat of crime reporting – by both old and new media – has been out of all proportion to the actual safety of the city. It’s a topic the current mayor refers to often. And he’s right. Very often in life, perception becomes reality. And the lack of editorial judgement by local media has helped create the perception of New Bedford as an urban jungle populated by nothing but drug dealers, gang members and other assorted criminals.
Reversing “White Flight”
Before “White Flight” and even now in more economically advanced communities, crime reporting wasn’t a social media spectator sport like it has become in New Bedford. Very often, it was and still is a once-a-week police blotter in a local weekly or daily newspaper.
Sure, New Bedford – just like many older, post-industrial cities – can be a gamey place. And yes, we’re feeling the ravages of the opioid epidemic here as it’s also being felt in so many other places.
But I’m still waiting for my mugging. Almost every day, I walk to Groundwork! from my home off Cottage Street, zip through Clasky-Common Park and skip down Purchase Street – unmolested. After reading a morning’s worth of headlines that everyone but me has been mugged at knifepoint! Maybe I should learn to dress better?
As I’ve written before, I’m well past the age to qualify as a ‘millennial” – but as in so many other ways, that age group has a healthier understanding of what it means to be part of a community and live in a city than some older folk.
You need to keep your eyes open in any urban environment – not just New Bedford. But you also need to bring a sense of perspective to your city experience.
The new media revolution evolves
To better appreciate all the good stuff that New Bedford Guide delivers each and every day to my newsfeed, I am glad they’re developing this sense of perspective. Congratulations to them on being at the forefront of this latest evolution of the new media revolution in New Bedford and beyond.
It represents a maturation of the form and a good progression of the business model. New Bedford Guide and its founder, Michael Silvia, have made the decision that devoting their resources toward the many informative and useful stories, images and live feeds they create and share is a more accurate representation of the city rather than posting daily opportunities for regressive Facebook rants.
It’s a sound editorial choice and reflects the better reality so many of us see and feel every day in New Bedford.