Paper Brief: Meet LocalLens

"Enter your locality, get back AI articles based on the publicly-posted minutes of official meetings."

Paper Brief: Meet LocalLens
"Take the role of a magazine illustrator. Create a line and watercolor image of a telescope facing a middle class detached house in an American neighborhood. The neighborhood should feature green grass, a sidewalk and porches. do not use words in this image" -DALL-E

You won’t find much coverage of hyperlocal news outside of Facebook Groups these days. Since you’re already here, you don’t need me to tell you that a new organization is trying to solve that problem with AI.

Tipping our hat to the News @ Knight Substack, meet LocalLens, which summarizes local school board, city council and zoning board meetings for New Jersey towns. The content is completely AI generated, with edits coming when someone requests a correction. The presentation is pretty appealing in its simplicity: Enter your locality, get back AI articles based on the publicly-posted minutes of official meetings.

Joe Amditis from the Center for Cooperative Media has a great write-up that captures many of my thoughts. His take, in short:

“Can AI really capture the nuances of human life and local color that form the backbone of local news? Is this really the future of local journalism?]

The short answer is, of course, no.”

From my POV, LocalLens is a necessarily unfinished idea. To get people to care, you’ve got to prototype it at some scale, I get it. But the way I see it, there are two ways this could work at scale without eating itself alive thanks to slow reputational degradation that, fair or not, will approach critical levels far more quickly with an AI product.

  1. A distributed newspaper chain uses this approach to edit and promote the most newsworthy stories, while assigning a secondary class of stories to a local reporter. A small amount of flagship content would likely be enough to insulate the brand.
  2. A fledgling social network (likely a cooperative between academia, tech and mid-class media) uses this content as an anchor for distributed community-based local news commenting from the audience. Find a way to incentivize high-quality comments, likely by making them the central item of the story. A simple short video app would be well advised.

Back to Amditis, whose thoughtful reax post is definitely worth your time:

“Do the founders of LocalLens see themselves as something akin to a bot-driven version of Documenters that supplies much-needed notetaking and documentation of public meetings and records? Or will this eventually just become yet another “good enough” source of local news and information for residents in communities that have either lost or abandoned their own local news organizations?”

This is not the kind of thing that’s really worth asking about – we’ll find out from events. So far, though, LocalLens feels like a solid idea worth pursuing, and MoP will be watching this space.

-- Bassey


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