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Posts Tagged ‘media’

Last spring I attended a conference on social media, and one of the speakers on a panel declared local news to be dead. One of the panelists responded by saying it was a local newspaper (The Record) that uncovered Gov. Chris Christie’s administration being tied to the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge a year ago (commonly referred to as Bridgegate).

The original speaker poo-pooed the story because it was New Jersey, an extension of New York. It doesn’t count.

It seems to have become common practice to dump all over local news. Case in point was an article from earlier this summer that was critical of “hyperlocal” because of its failures though it still has supporters. Part of the story was Jim Brady’s new project in Philadelphia, where he has gone since the closure of Project Thunderdome from Digital First Media. Among the things it picks on are TBD in Washington, which isn’t a fair point since TBD was never hyperlocal nor was it given a chance to succeed.

The article also picks on Patch, which is a fair criticism, but also mentions Backfence. Not familiar with Backfence? It’s because it shutdown in 2007 and it was a project focused on citizen journalism, the buzzword for hyperlocal before hyperlocal. I know about Backfence because it was included in my graduate school thesis in 2006 on citizen journalism. It was an early project, which means there were things to learn here. Just like there are lessons to learn from Patch.

But that fails to highlight how there are many local news websites that are doing just fine. I worked at one in Connecticut, and one of the oldest is in my backyard here in New Jersey. There also are franchises of local news websites in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Look beyond the tri-state area and you’re going to find a lot of local news websites across the country thriving.

Local news is struggling in some ways, no doubt. A recent PEW study outlined the shifting in how many people are covering the statehouse. We still hear about layoffs across the country, including at local news outlets. Some local outlets have trouble shifting from traditional distribution methods (ie printed product), but it isn’t always because they are resistant to change. Often they do not have the resources.

But we should be concerned about local news rather than declaring it dead. It’s an important instrument for you to learn what’s happening in your neighborhood. But it’s also these local news outlets that will stay with a story when the national media is gone.

I’ve seen someone say “what happens when the national media leaves Ferguson?” several times on one of my social media streams. It’s not just friends but also others who work in journalism. What happens is the local media will continue to cover the story, just like the local media always does when the national media leaves.

Hurricane Sandy was a national story and still gets some national press two years later, but it’s the local press that writes the stories about the storms effects constantly. My colleagues are sharing the stories of people who are still struggling two years after the storm. Remember the story about the Sandy Hook gunman that grabbed national headlines? It originated in the Hartford Courant, aka the local press. Bridgegate grabbed national attention, but it’s the New Jersey and New York outlets that are on top of every movement. In 2009, a group of Millburn High School students came under fire for a hazing incident that grabbed national headlines. When the national press was gone, it was the local news outlets (including myself) that followed the story, including what happened the following first day of school.

Plus those stories that evoke dramatic emotion from you? Most often they are covered by a local news outlet first before a national news outlet (or even your local news) picks it up.

The thing about today’s world of media is that you can check in on news anywhere in this country (or the world too) at any time. With a click of your mouse, you can check to see what is happening in the St. Louis area (where Ferguson is located) or what’s happening where you grew up (I don’t do this because my mother tells me more news from home than I could consume online).

But without local news, you wouldn’t be able to check in on those stories or what’s happening in your hometown. We wouldn’t have stories like the Courant’s profile of the Sandy Hook gunman. Those stories take time, local sources and local knowledge. It’s your local press that’s going to deliver on that for you.

I’m not going to tell you to go buy your local newspaper because I don’t buy the local newspaper either. But I do check my local news online. If you want to know what’s happening, check out your local news site.

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The “debate” that has my social media streams aflutter the last two days is an article that pronounced social media editors dead. Funny because I didn’t read my obit.

There are lots of people who have written about the subject that sum up how I feel about the subject than I ever could say:

You should read all three because each has a unique perspective on the matter, though I more identify with Mandy’s article because my career has been more focused on local coverage. In fact, Mandy’s job description details a lot of what I do in my current role.

But that’s the thing — Every social media role in every organization is different. Expectations are different at every news organization, and, in fact, my role has evolved in just two years at NJ.com for a lot of different reasons.

And this is where my “I hate labels” argument comes into play, like it does when people start yelling about blogger versus journalist.

It’s easy to box people into a certain ideal just because of the label we put on them. Does a social media editor spend their days tweeting snarky jokes and yelling about Facebook privacy setting? No, it’s more complex than that and it’s different at every organization. Just like the role of “community manager” can be different at every organization. The goal of “engagement” varies too.And when you start throwing around labels and pigeon-holing people, that’s when people will start declaring something is dead. But the reality is far from declaring something is dead.Roles evolve and change as the market and technology and the world changes. In two years, my role in social media in this job has changed. My role as a reporter when I graduated from college was drastically different than what it was 10 years later.That doesn’t mean reporting or the role of reporter is dead. It just changed. It evolved.And that’s what the best people do in this industry — they evolve. Because if you don’t evolve, you will perish.

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Should the New York Post have ran on its front page the photo of a man moments before his tragic death when he was pushed in front of a subway? Should it have run the photo at all?

Those are two questions several of my friends and peers are discussing on social media today, no matter if they’re in journalism or not. But the bigger question is: Why didn’t anyone help the man? The Atlantic Wire raises the question today too. The Atlantic also reviews the details of why the Post’s freelance photographer didn’t actually help the man (instead he was using his flash to try to signal the subway).

To quote several people: This story is a media ethics professor’s dream.

Journalists don’t want to be part of the story, but where do we draw the line? When is it O.K. to get involved? Clearly when someone’s life is on the line is a point when any human should decide to get involved. But do you snap the photo first and then help or help and then snap the photo? I think that’s a judgment call in how dangerous and imperative the situation is.

I was put in a situation where I had to get involved in a story a few years ago. A man who appeared to be drunk was driving through the middle of town and crashed into a car. I was the one who called 911 in the gathering crowd. The police later said he had hit a sign and other cars in the area. How did I resolve the issues that I was now part of the story? I told a co-worker what I saw and he got the information from the police.

But there are bigger issues with this story than journalists’ integrity or if the photo should run. Why aren’t people helping in general when incidents like this happen?

The subway story reminded me of an incident in the Washington Metro more than a year ago. A man was beaten by a group of teens and it was captured on video. Of course the video ended up on YouTube. But no one in the area, including those videoing the incident, did anything to help. No one stepped in to stop the beating (though I don’t blame people for not wanting to do that). But why didn’t anyone hit the big security buttons that are all over Metro stations? Why didn’t someone run to the station manager to get help?

But it’s not like it’s an isolated incident. There are other times when you see video and photos of beatings and fights happening at sporting events. There was a beating after the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia that made its way onto YouTube, which sparked a police investigation. And in any of those incidents you don’t see anyone helping or trying to get security or police.

Are people more concerned about take a photo or video of something rather than trying to help people? Is this a new level of the bystander syndrome where people don’t want to get involved in an incident? It’s a somewhat disturbing trend.

Updates:

There’s some interesting follow-up reading on he Post’s photo and the choice to publish it as it was. Gawker caught up with some photographers — including Pulitzer Prize winners — on what they would have done in the same situation. As an aside: I don’t think anyone is blaming R. Umar Abbasi for Ki Suk Han’s death. I think people don’t understand why he didn’t try to help Han more than he did.

The Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee chairman also weighed in on the debate in an enlightening interview. He raises issues I hadn’t thought about. His comments made me think differently about the photo.

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