The Local News Food Chain

Until pretty recently I would have
told you that the way local news flows online is as follows:

  1. Local news outlet breaks a story
  2. Local blogs pick it up, provide commentary, go nuts, etc.
  3. Local news outlet reports online reaction to the story they reported, thus
    creating a "local reaction story"
  4. Start over
Lately, though, I’d say that the information flows both ways.  Here’s a
classic example:

  1. Winston-Salem based blogger Esbee gets a comment on one of her
    blog posts that asks if she’s heard anything about a flurry of break-ins in the
    Sherwood area.  The commenter had pasted in the text of an email that was making
    its way around the community.
  2. She hasn’t, but she writes
    a separate post
    with the comment in the body to see if anyone has heard
    about them.  She also checks the police calls and finds some
    corroborating information.
  3. She gets comments asking her to remove the address that police provided,
    although it’s really just a block number AND it’s public info that’s on the
    police website.  She does remove the address but points out that it’s public
    info.  The last comment on her post says, "How the hell did the Journal miss
    this?!?!Now that I look through, there are like 5 "investigative support" things
    at that address, too! Do they actually look at this stuff, or do they wait for
    the police to spoonfeed what the police would have us hear?"
  4. Today the Winston-Salem Journal runs this
    story
    with the headline, "Police report multiple
    break-ins in Sherwood Forest area"
I’m willing to bet that the Journal reporter came across Esbee’s post and
then did what reporters are paid to do, which is dig into it. I’m not saying
this is a bad or improper thing, I just think it’s a natural evolution of the
form and I only write about it because I constantly hear people say that blogs
are a bunch of narcissistic ramblings written by people with nothing better to
do.  Obviously I disagree.

I IM’d Esbee about this and she pointed out
that the real food chain was:

  1. Email or comments are sent to blogger about a community issue
  2. Blogger looks at it and finds the story viable (i.e. not a hoax)
  3. Blogger posts, which generates more comments and feedback and fleshes out
    the story
  4. Media picks up the story
I think she’s right, and sometimes there’s even a little bit of personal
experience involved just like I had with
the allegations
against a teacher
at my son’s school. But the main point is that local blogs
provide another avenue for community information to be shared, and in the
atmosphere of shrinking budgets and reporting staffs that newspapers are
operating in they would be foolish not to follow the leads that the blogs
provide.  When you think about it, how have news operations traditionally gotten
their stories? Tips via email, and phone calls, press releases from companies
and institutions, monitoring the police scanner, etc.  How is monitoring blogs
any different?

One thing I’d like to see is that if a paper does
pick up a lead from a blog that perhaps they reference the blog in their
article. If nothing else it would give readers an opportunity to get the back
story and it would acknowledge the contribution that the blogger is making to
the community. Another reason I’d give is that newspaper folks have complained
for years that local TV newscasts get most of their stories from the newspapers,
so I’d hope that newspapers would be sensitive to the same issue with the
bloggers.  On the other hand maybe they take the view that if the TV folks
aren’t going to give them credit for story leads then why should they give
bloggers credit?  The "kick the dog" theory as it were.

Side note: I
just noticed that Esbee’s been removed from the Journal’s blog
page
.  Since Life in
Forsyth
is easily the most informative blog focused on the Winston-Salem
area I’m a bit surprised by this.  I certainly hope it’s not because she wrote
this
a while back.  That would be a bit like biting the hand that feeds if you ask
me.

4 thoughts on “The Local News Food Chain

  1. Esbee

    I am not sure I would have written about this at all – it is way out of my general purview – except the information was left publically in a comment. As it is, I wrote hurriedly, as I was on the way out, asking for others to look into it, but first seeing if I could find any basis for it Tht information was easy to find, given that it is public.
    That said, there is an email loop in this town that was working on the same original email concurrently. They confirmed the incident and specified the location using neighbors, if not before me, just after me.
    On that end, the new food chain seems to be neighbor shares something with neighbor, second neighbor begins emailing other neighbors, still more neighbors pitch in with more details and more information, etc. (Today alone, I’ve received at least five different “updated” chains, all with much more info than is on my blog.)
    Now, in the case of the “White Van Stalker”, that chain began with a missaumption and moved really quickly and really inaccurately. I frankly expected this, too, to have no real basis, and I was saddened to find it was at least based in truth.
    I have no idea re: your side note. Suffice it to say it surprised me, too. I have no idea if it’s because I made the observations that I did or if it’s for another reason entirely. I like to think it’s because I’m devastatingly cute. =)

    Reply
  2. Rachael (Jon's mom)

    Given my age and background, my opinion may be suspect to the average reader of this blog, but since I’ve known the author longer than anyone else possibly could have, I feel entitled to comment — maybe even compelled to comment. I used to teach journalism in your fair county, and when I did I spent as much time talking about fact-finding and ethical behavior as I did about tight writing and engaging readers. That kind of journalism may not exist anymore, thanks to Watergate and the compulsion to find scandal and salacious stories, but if it does, I somehow hope it does at the WSJ. AND, that would mean that the Journal reporters would spend a good deal of time not only verifying, but also determining the potential impact of their reporting before they filed the story. Bloggers are bloggers, and as such do not necessarily operate under the journalistic model. That does not make them poor communicators (and in this case the blogger certainly did the basic checking), merely different ones. That a blogger posts a story before a journalist gets to it doesn’t make the journalist slow or weak. Might be he or she is just as good at journalism as the blogger is at blogging.

    Reply
  3. Rachael (Jon's mom)

    Given my age and background, my opinion may be suspect to the average reader of this blog, but since I’ve known the author longer than anyone else possibly could have, I feel entitled to comment — maybe even compelled to comment. I used to teach journalism in your fair county, and when I did I spent as much time talking about fact-finding and ethical behavior as I did about tight writing and engaging readers. That kind of journalism may not exist anymore, thanks to Watergate and the compulsion to find scandal and salacious stories, but if it does, I somehow hope it does at the WSJ. AND, that would mean that the Journal reporters would spend a good deal of time not only verifying, but also determining the potential impact of their reporting before they filed the story. Bloggers are bloggers, and as such do not necessarily operate under the journalistic model. That does not make them poor communicators (and in this case the blogger certainly did the basic checking), merely different ones. That a blogger posts a story before a journalist gets to it doesn’t make the journalist slow or weak. Might be he or she is just as good at journalism as the blogger is at blogging.

    Reply

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