Are reporters and journalists intelligence collectors?

Last week, New York Times editor Dean Baquet warned that local news is in danger of dying.

The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news. I don’t know what the answer is. Their economic model is gone.

I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire.”

I won’t opine on political and media implications but, assuming this is true, I do have some thoughts as it pertains to intelligence gathering.

First, if you’re expecting or preparing for an emergency, then you should be gathering local information.

By automating the collection and then monitoring for “intelligence value,” we can become better informed about local issues. That helps us identify potential threats and fault lines, thus giving us a better picture of the future.

I certainly look at journalists and reporters as “intelligence collectors” from whom I can glean intelligence information.

The availability of cheap and easy local information, reported by ostensibly reliable sources, is of extreme importance.

Speaking strictly of intelligence, without local reporters and journalists, we risk decreasing access to local sources of information. That narrows our understanding of current events, and degrades our ability to produce intelligence focused on the future.

Second, if it becomes the case that your local newspaper goes under, I’d look at a couple of options.

One option I would certainly pursue is a micro-news service focused on community reporting on local political issues and crime. This is a valuable (and basic and cheap) of an intelligence effort that you can start.

Do parents attend school board meetings? Do civic-minded neighbors attend city hall or county commission meetings? Recruit a few people to provide a summary of topics and key quotes, facts, and figures.

Start a blog and post those reports on it. See if local businesses will advertise on the blog, and then, assuming enough of your fellow resident care about what goes on, see if you can simply replace crime and political reporting. (Or see how viable this is without advertising.)

There are existing services (like NextDoor) that may be good alternatives to lacking a local news outlet. You could also set up queries that pull from local Twitter and Facebook accounts to add to your news/intel roll-up.

Ideally, I would want to start my own service, instead of relying on someone else’s, and then use information from NextDoor (and other services) to include on the blog.

Instead of a blog, you could start a local intelligence report. I highly, highly recommend that every community security team or preparedness group/network have members trained in intelligence. It’s just too valuable of a skill to overlook, especially if you expect a disruptive or history-altering event to occur.

Here are some resources to get you started thinking about local intelligence:

A Primer on Tactical Intelligence

SHTF Intelligence and Decision-Making

“Center of Gravity” and SHTF Preparedness

Or if you want to take a more formal approach, I invite you to become a member of the Forward Observer Training Pipeline, where you can learn how to become your group’s intelligence officer for navigating conflicts and emergencies.

You can get started here.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper

Samuel Culper is a former Intelligence NCO and contractor. Iraq(x1)/Afghanistan(x2). He now studies intelligence and warfare.

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