Why do we do it?
Commentary is not something readers often find on Fast Draw Media and, when it is, it usually doesn’t come in such an informal manner. However, as editor and publisher of this site, I am making an editorial decision to revert to my newspaper practice of publishing an editorial column, so there will be a larger use of personal pronouns in this piece than in others stories on this site.
An online friend of mine, Robert Moore, who practices digital history in writing about the Civil War, Southern Unionism, and memory of these topics on Cenantua’s Blog, recently wrote a post about who Civil War history bloggers are and and why they do it. Robert has been examining, for quite some time, the impact digital space has on the study and practice of history. Robert’s piece got me to thinking about why I do what I do with digital news.
Citizen journalism is the catchphrase in media circles right now and, I believe, there are some stories, driven by local influence and desire to know, that are better published by local news websites. Are they being covered in other local media outlets? Possibly, but consider this point. I practice digital journalism in a rural area served by the Dallas-Fort Worth television and radio markets. Many of the local stories covered by these stations and received by viewers in the community trend toward the negative. That doesn’t mean that negative stories should’t be covered, but it leaves the negative and inaccurate perception that small towns only have bad things happen there.
Local newspapers in rural communities have always filled the positive news void and will probably continue to do so for a few more years longer than their urban counterparts. Some of it is that people in small towns love their local publications, but part of it is also that, in many rural areas, the infrastructure is not present to bring digital content to rural Internet users with the same kinds of speeds as urban Internet users receive. This frustration leads many in rural areas to rely on the local print product for news of all types.
When I first started this website as part of my master’s studies in New Media Journalism at Full Sail University, I knew I wanted to fill the digital void in coverage of local news in my community. While that makes the approach to and the appeal of this site more limited than the average website, I saw original content, maximized for the digital environment, as being what was needed to generate an interest in and a demand for local digital news content. I’m still working on it, but this is a start. Independent journalists, whether citizen journalists or professionally trained ones, will drive this in rural communities since most digital content is currently regurgitated print product. The concept is changing, but it’s taking time, somewhat because rural newspapers are not losing readers to the Internet at the same rate as urban newspapers, and the print product is still the primary product.
Journalists need to bear in mind that the Internet is dynamic, making the exchange of information as important as, maybe more than, providing information. The news cycle is real-time. Verification and correction can, and should, occur instantaneously. Remember the recent incident with CNN and FOX News publishing the wrong information about the recent Supreme Court ruling on healthcare? It’s still an evolving science, but it is exciting to watch it happen.
Content is no longer simply published, it’s engineered. As online editors and publishers consider how stories will be covered, the types of available media and the platforms on which it is presented are taken into consideration. Do we live blog an event on Twitter while gathering video, audio and images for a complete story after an event? Is this story best told through images, text, video, audio or a combination? Will reports from other sources be aggregated to tell the story as it happens or will later reports be curated to tell a story later? How much context, background and localization are needed to attract the target audience? All of this is taking place, in many instances, in real time or a significantly reduced time than putting out a print product and faster than airing a TV or radio program. News will continue to become some form of hybrid of all existing media forms traditionally used to report stories.
So, what does all of this really mean for the average news consumer, especially of local content? First, the news consumer no longer has to wait if the news organization is reporting in the digital arena. Does the paper come out on Friday? Yes, but has someone published before then? Can the information be accessed sooner and supplement an understanding of events and issues? Second, news organizations do not have to report in a vacuum, not that they ever should have been. Did we do a story last week? Is this a follow-up story? Then, for crying out loud, link back to the original story so readers can find out why it’s important in a complete way instead of the report-in-brief that is used in all updates and follows. Vary the content. If video was used last week, try something different in the follow-up. Third, for local readers, there is the opportunity to use media that is not often seen in the community to cover stories. Most of the time, rural, small town and suburban news consumers get text and images in the newspaper. With digital content, the potential for video, audio and interactive photo slideshows are available.
I’m not looking to replace any news entity in my local community. The local paper has over 100 years in the community and I will never be able to compete with that. What I do hope to accomplish if to present news in a variety of formats, offer the opportunity for interaction and allow local interest to drive content. I welcome suggestions from the community on how to accomplish this goal. I encourage you to respond in the comments section below.