All news is local, especially during Hurricane Sandy

As I write this, my hands are shaking and my mind is a mess because, according to both the local Philadelphia television station and the national Weather Channel, I am in line for a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy. Since my power goes out when my neighbor sneezes, I anticipate days without electricity in an age ruled by electronics.

Of course, the biggest part of my trepidation is caused by the fact that I think these things are going to happen; I anticipate the worst is yet to come; but I'm uncertain because, frankly, Philadelphia is 70 miles away and The Weather Channel is in Atlanta and I have no clear visibility of what's happening at the local airport a half-mile away--unless I get in my little Volkswagen and drive, drive, drive; and the governor has advised against that sort of activity.

This conundrum hammers home a point made and repeated at last week's TelcoTV 2012 in Las Vegas: The Web is world wide and it's making the world smaller, but all news is local. People want--demand, hope, beg--for news about their community. Community newspapers for centuries have filled that need with products that come out on a daily or weekly basis and today include up-to-date Web sites. In a breaking news situation, though, people have learned to depend on television, and no one really cares that much what a meteorologist in Atlanta is saying or a meteorologist on a beach in North Jersey is saying or even what the talking head in Philadelphia is saying. Local residents want to know what the air traffic controller at the Millville Airport is saying; what the dock owner in Shell Pile has to report; and what the Coast Guard in Port Norris is experiencing.

And when it comes to that sort of news, there's just a dearth of content.

I understood when I moved to this remote spot in the most populated state in the nation that some things, like up-to-the-minute local news, would be lacking. During last year's near-miss hurricane, a reporter from a Philadelphia TV station got lost or detoured on her way back from the seashore to the city and ended up in my home Cumberland County. The middle-of-the-night scenario was priceless enough for a Visa commercial. The reporter stood bathed in camera light in the middle of a dark deserted road with an expression that screamed, "Where the hell am I and how the hell do I get out of here?" She could have been just down the road from my house--she didn't know where she was, as all dark roads in Cumberland County look the same. To add to the comic opera, a local resident in a pick-up pulled up to as she was doing her report--causing even more trepidation on her part--and  got out. With his pre-teen daughter. Nothing strange there, he was just out looking at the storm.

It's where I live.

Maybe that's why I understood so clearly last week's message that the big national wireline companies with quadruple play voice, video, data and mobile services and satellite services can blanket the globe and give me an insider's view of the Arab Spring, but the smallest of telcos will win customers because they can tell me what's going on across the street. Telcos who decide to offer IPTV as part of their service plan--and the consensus at this obviously biased conference was that should be everyone--can add an ingredient of local to their service that no national carrier can touch.

And they'll become the 21st Century version of the local newspaper, only better, because they'll have the ability--even if it's only employees with cell phones--to be on the scene telling the local story for the local audience.

It's a powerful weapon in the battle with the big guys and a powerful reminder that, at the end of the day, all business is local, all news is local and, for nearly everyone, all that matters is local. --Jim

A little post-storm postscript. For whatever reason, we took an almost direct hit from the storm and experienced something only a little more harsh and prolonged than a summer thunderstorm. Why and how everyone else in my area did is still a mystery. While i learned that the Coast Guard Inn in Rhode Island sustained major damage, I don't know what happened to Shannon's Steaks and Subs around the corner from me because there were no local newspapers. Apparently, according to the (shameless plug here) Atlantic City Press website, there's a local travel ban.

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