Hyperlocal News the Old Fashioned Way: The Yard Sign

By Adena Schutzberg

Hyperlocal news need not be delivered on the Web or Twitter, it may well be in the backyard. This was driven home for me this past weekend when I rode my bike through many of the towns between Wellesley and Bourne, Massachusetts. The route covered mostly back roads through residential neighborhoods. These green lawns are the real home of hyperlocal news and opinion, as they are the homes of yard signs. I certainly saw plenty of political signs in yards during last fall's presidential election, but during late summer 2009 the yard signs I saw focused on very local concerns. These were concerns that had not reached me listening to my local public radio station's local news.

One sign I saw read: "MBTA - Go the other way!" MBTA is Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the state's public transit organization. I believe I saw that one in Foxboro or Walpole. That made no sense to me until this week when our governor announced the Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan for the proposed South Coast Rail line between Boston and the south coast of the state (an economically challenged area). It would, assuming projections are correct, add considerable short-term construction jobs and a decent number of permanent ones. It might also double the population of the towns in the region.

But the original signs with this slogan are far older than this summer. They date back to 2000 when the first proposal came out and a group protesting this alternative route, Citizens Concerned About Tracks, was formed. The group had the signs made and waged a successful campaign to lay this route to rest. But the route is back in play as the governor rekindles his campaign promise to get the line built. And so the signs have reappeared.

The other curious hyperlocal yard sign I saw was in Berkley (yes, it's spelled without an "e" where most would have one). It said, "No quarry for Berkley." That's the name of the website for the organization behind the sign. Cape Cod Aggregates has proposed a 45 acre quarry in a residential area of Berkley which prompted the opposition.

Now that I know more about the goals of the signs, I wonder about the intent of those who placed them. Do the homeowners simply want their neighbors to know "where they stand" on the issues? Are the signs aimed at visitors like me who might join the cause? Are they educational, meant to inform all residents about issues relevant to the local community? I'm sure the answer includes some of all of these ideas along with others. Still the "reach" of the signs is rather limited in these low traffic (pedestrian, car, bike, etc.) areas.

Some find such signs eyesores. I like them. They are the epitome of local news; they state "something important is happening here" and you need to know about it." It's completely different from news from the radio, TV or Web that's happening (or happened) "somewhere else." This news is happening right here, right now. Clearly, there's still a place for "old fashioned" hyperlocal news publishing via yard signs, even if the signs themselves point you to a website for more information!

Published Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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