Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Newcastle's Information Blackhole

Photo: Newcastle

Sometimes I feel that writing this blog is a little like a prisoner trying to escape, chipping away with a small blunt knife at a giant wall, finally getting through the first wall only to find another one. The point?

As part of my writing I wanted to find out information about Newcastle. Not the type of static information found on Council or visitor web sites, but information and views on current issues of concern to the City. While this blog covers a wide period from New England's pre-historic past to the present, I do like to keep current. I also want to identify linkages and commonalities in needs, interests and concerns across area.

Dear me this is hard to do with Newcastle, the place appears to be an information black hole. Let me share my frustrations with you by taking you along the search path.

The logical starting point is obviously the on-line edition of the main local paper, in this case the Newcastle Herald, a major Fairfax publication. This should be a treasure trove of information.

So click on the Herald web site. Now what do you find? A very small number of very short stories cross-linked to the story in the printed edition of the paper. Almost useless to someone trying to keep in touch with the city from outside.

Okay, the paper has a search facility. Drought has been a problem in the Lower Hunter, so lets type drought in the archive search box. Maybe this will help. The result takes you through to the Fairfax News Store where you can view an article at $2.20 per view. Now this is absolutely useless to me. I have no idea as the real relevance of the story and, in any case, there is no way I am prepared to pay this just to keep in touch.

I could, I suppose, take out a subscription to the physical paper. But again, I cannot really afford this.

Now compare this with the Northern Daily Leader, a Rural Press publication. Here you will find main current articles plus a good search facility. Not all things are on line, but it is a good base. I do fear for the future, however, now that Rural Press and Fairfax are in the process of merging.

So let's think about TV. Newcastle based NBN has a good TV news. Does its site help you find new items about the area served? No, it is I think one of the worst web sites I have seen.

Prime also carries regional news. Their site is better in a general sense, but still no way that I can find news.

So both newspapers and commercial TV are hopeless as sources of current news about Newcastle for those outside the area. Where to next? The ABC.

ABC does have a Newcastle site, a site with a working, free search facility. Now that's an advance! While not perfect, this does at least allow me to get some news, if very imperfectly.

Well, what about blogs?

Increasingly I use blogs as a major information source across a range of dimensions because they contain current information. Australia does lag behind the US in blog uptake, but on the national percentages at least 1,000 Newcastle people should blog. Many of these will be purely personal, others commercial, but there should still be something.

Now here Google blog search results follow. Here I got depressed because this blog kept on showing up! For obvious reasons, I have excluded my own comments!

A blog search on Newcastle NSW blog blogs brings up three pages of posts, but none really relevant. A similar search on Newcastle NSW politics brings up 44 posts. From here we have just one:

  • Michael Osbourne's blog - Michael is a Green candidate for Newcastle City Council

A blog search on Newcastle NSW life drew 46 posts. However, while I did find two Newcastle based personal blogs, their focus did not meet my information needs.

A blog search on Newcastle NSW drought drew a smaller number of posts, again none really relevant. I then did a search on I Live in Newcastle.

At this point I gave up, still depressed both at Newcastle's information black hole and the fact that, in the blog world at least, my very limited comments on Newcastle have such apparent visibility.

Later - 4 November 2007

I have finally filled the Newcastle information gap through blogs. See my New England Australia blog list.

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