Here’s Why We Launched A Blog Mr. Publisher

In a farewell message Publisher Jeff Mezzztesta offered wide ranging comments about his career, the state of the media today, and blogs as he prepared to move to another publishing enterprise.

In his column he had this to say about blogs:  “. . . Internet blogging isn’t journalism.  What manages to barely pass the drivel test is there for entertainment purposes.  To me, barking out half-truths and conspiracies under pseudonyms is an insult to professional journalists.  Bloggers have taken their best shots at the Whig and the second guessing just bounces off.  They don’t get the concept that even a little wrong is still wrong.”

We’re not sure to whom Publisher Mazzztesta is referring but we’ll go ahead and offer some remarks on how we discovered the value of blogging for a cause.  In April 2008 we learned the Town of Elkton was selling some public park land it had recently acquired through a state grant.  Of course we worked to convince officials that this wasn’t a good idea.  After failing to find a receptive audience with the political leadership we took the next step by attending town meetings to oppose the project publicly.  A  Whig reporter was at those sessions, and each time the subject came up we surely thought we’d read about it in our daily paper in three or four days.  But that would never happen.

Commissioner Storke, sometimes joined by Commissioner Given, would strongly oppose the loss of the Maryland Open Space Land.  Having a good sense for what is news we surely thought that these open sessions were going to be headline pieces in our local paper, but again each morning our daily edition failed to deliver the news.  After about two  months of watching these activities we started calling the paper to make sure they weren’t missing the story that would be of interest to a general readership, concerned public policy, and required nothing more than reporting what was happening in front of them at town meetings.  We’d even craft our remarks in a summary sort of way to help orient someone to the story.  Too, there were very quotable remarks with the official body as the commissioners argued over the issue.

After watching more months pass by while the town continued advancing forward with the proposal, we had to come up with another alternative to spread the word, since the Cecil Whig wasn’t going to touch a story that was in the public interest and required no journalistic effort other than quoting what was happening in public view.

Thus our blog, Someone Noticed, was launched as an alternative method for spreading the “411 on the Mayor and Commissioners of the Town of Elkton.”  While this was nothing as large as the SPCA allegations, it attracted an audience.  On a good day, we were getting nearly 500 unique hits.  The public started commenting about their effort at town meetings, which before the weblog would have largely been unknown to a wider audience.  Commissioner Jablonski, the Director of the Elkton Alliance, even complained about all the rumors that were being caused about the situation at one meeting.

To do some digging on our own we started filing Freedom of Information Act requests and we came up with powerful documents, such as a recommendation from the town administrator saying don’t do it.   When the Commissioners made assertions about facts, we’d independently fact-check the assertions.   Once Commissioner Jablonski told the other members that this was done in Port Deposit, so they weren’t doing soemthing that was untired.  So we called Port Deposit and the state agency responsible for protecting the public land.  It had never happened and we received a srong email from Mayor Abrahms of Port Deposit saying that the western Cecil County municiplality we could rest assured that town would protect its open space.  As the noise grew louder and louder, the town after an additional four months of bad publicity and growing budget challenges finally decided to abandon the attempt.

We forget to mention that toward the end of the project after the buzz was all over the streets and old news to anyone interested in Elkton government, the Whig finally started reporting providing coverage.

The retiring publisher is right in that one has to be very careful with what they accept as facts in the blogosphere.  But, too, when the local media won’t cover it, what is a citizen to do.  The 21st century is a new world for digital media and there is nothing anyone can do about this technological advance, except understand it and use it to add value.  That’ is something many newspapers are doing today.  From a citizens standpoint, there is virtually no learning curve for if you can use a computer, you’ve got all the computer skills that are required.

We’ve said many times that strong print newspapers are important for a balance.  But the papers have to do a little digging, sometimes stir things up, and occasionally report material the political leadership doesn’t want in print.

It really is all about content and if local papers start delivering real, somewhat deep content they will be able to ride out this market, change with the technology and return to an era when the profits are large (don’t know if it will ever be in the 30% range.).

That’s what we say about blogging.  One final word, we’ve already tried to make sure we get it right on Someone Noticed and did not allow charges and attacks on individuals to occur.  We restricted many postings and put our name to what we published.  Hopefully newspapers executives will see the value, soon, that unique content (not the wire stuff) has for the enterprise for it is what people want.  Content adds value to the product for readers and advertisers.  If it’s not being product in the legacy media, the public will turn to other sources.

See our earlier piece on what newspaper readers want, too.

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11 responses to “Here’s Why We Launched A Blog Mr. Publisher

  1. Pingback: Someone Noticed Reacts to Whig Publisher Comments « The Official Blog of Delegate Mike Smigiel

  2. Well said, Mike! As you know, this is the reason I launched my blog in Chesapeake City some years back. And when people started thanking you, as they did me, for finally reporting “the other side” of issues never previously covered by the county newspaper…well, that pretty much made it all worth the effort, didn’t it? Even if we don’t get paid. Maybe that’s why big media made a pitch to control the internet. You think it could be related?

  3. Someone in the Know

    It should be noted that Jeff Mezzatesta is correct in some of his statement. A blog, while it has the best of intentions, is generally started because of the specific agenda of one person. A blog is a new form of media that has been brought on by the computer age- sometimes for the good and sometimes not so much.A newspaper has the moral obligation to check its facts and decide if a story should be written and what should be said. An editor of a newspaper presumably has a 4 year degree usually in journalism that has taught him/her not only how to write, but also ethics, investigative writing and more. A blogger may or may not have a degree, but the point of a blog is not to show fair and unbias news, but rather a chance for the blogger to get his opinion out about a subject.
    The very reason your blog started is a great example of this. While you accuse the Whig of not reporting the story that you wanted exposed to the public, there could have been a good reason. Perhaps they checked the facts of the story and realized that Project Open Space or the Maryland Historic Trust would never allow a comercial development to be built on historic land it saved. Perhaps they talked to people on the board of the Historic Elk Landing Foundation and realized that they never wanted to sell the land but that they just wanted to hear the developers proposal. Perhaps they knew that the mayor wanted to hear a proposal to get his activity center that he desperately wants and will listen to anything, but he knows that zoning and other issues would have never allowed building there. Because of these reasons, perhaps the Whig chose not to run a story. The publisher of this blog should be commended for starting a blog to make sure his interest and the interest of other historically minded folks was heard-and it was. Never think though that blogging should take the place of a newspaper. While a paper newspaper may be dead within 25 years, there must be a online version that has the same responsibility of a physical newspaper so the public gets a wide variety of news. A blog does not have the interest of high school sports, nor will you see honor role students names listed on a blog, nor will you see stories not relevant to the blogger on a blog. You will see that in an online newspaper and that is what should be done in the public interest of fairness.

  4. Janelle:

    Thanks for posting. While I knew about blogs and the potential of this web 2.0 product thanks to how they created the buzz that brought down Trent Lott and Dan Rather, it was your blog that demonstrated to me the value of these products for citizen journlaism in Cecil County.

    Once I discovered how CanalSide was deliverying content (news & commentary) related to Chesapake City a few years ago, I had it on an RSS feed and would check in each day to get the news on the Canal Town, which I didn’t read in the Whig and to also provide coverage from another perspective other than legacy media.

    I was often surprised to see how someone else covered it and pleased to see the amount of news that showed up in one person’s effort on the net. It created a good bit of conversation too, but that’s all part of the process and when ever I’d talk to people around Chesapeake City, the blog was thing they were all well aware of.

    It goes to show that people do want local news, if someone will deliver. I’d really like to see someone start a virtual newspaper in Cecil. The entry cost are low and we know a couple of people that have experience or are credentialed. We’d had hope for another blogger that popped up for a bit and showed great promoised but stopped post once the election coverage was over.

    After this is over I’m going to write a digital history of media in Cecil, so we have some recordation of the facts. The first online newspaper was edited by Wayne Fenstermacher. He shows up with posts frequently and he used the net for online publishing of stories in Cecil. That was in the net’s primitive age, 1996. Then it appears we jump to CanalSide for the first community blog site. The Whig came along with its still limited web site much, much later.

    Thanks for all the hard work you’re doing on this fast moving story to help keep everyone informed of breaking news and to provide another source of reporting, which we wouldn’t get in the daily paper.

    At least the Whig got around to calling for an animal control plan today in the paper too! I think that would’ve been my first editorial once I saw the extent of this problem. The delegate isn’t going anywhere so attacking him isn’t as time sensitive!

  5. Someone in the Know, good to hear from you. I think we know each other and you do seem to be in the know.

    It’s good to hear that a newspaper has a moral obligation to check the facts and decide if a story should be written and what should be said. We agree a paper needs to check its fact, but we’re probably hoping for too much if serious fact-checking and digging is required.

    What about the obligation to cover the news that is of broad public interest? Isnt’ selling public park land of interest. You imply that they weren’t really going to sell the land, so I guess Stewart Associates (the developer) was just being strung along so the Elk Landing board and Elkton officials since they all had other agendas, as you state. There was an absolute threat to sell that land as evidenced by documentation obtained through Freedom of Information Filings.

    But more than that, you mean to tell me the newspaper was privy to this plot or scheme as various interests manuvered so each person could get what they wanted. So the paper, you speculate, was going along for the ride by keeping it quiet since it was never going to happen?

    Then you say possible becasue of all this insider information perhaps the Whig decided to protect the public from such information by withholding it, since it wasn’t real in the first place.

    Since you seem to know a lot about the Whig’s strategies and editorial policies as well as insider information from a variety of stakeholders, can you share the Whig’s strategy on the SPCA story? I realize this one is still breaking, but were they protecting all of us readers from such terrible news because it too isn’t true. Perhaps you can enlighten me. Am I to believe that they investigated it or did whatever and found out that there was nothing to it. How about that!

    How about this. How about if our newspapers report what happens. Don’t make the news, but when it happens report it, dig a little, investigate a little, and fact-check. Then write it, and Let the readers decide whether the threats or complaints are real.

    Since you know so much I do hope you’re not a Whig Editor. Or did we get Cecil-Pravada, looking out for what the people should know here in Cecil County.

    Look at some of my other pieces on media and you’ll see that I said long before this that print media is important, if they’ll report the news. If not someone will fill the gap.

    Also scan on down and see what the Whig’s sister publication in Chestertown has to say about reporting bad news, going after officials and so on. Very different business strategy down that way.

    In the know, please keep us informed so we’ll have some idea what they aren’t telling us and why.

    Finally we agree, anyone can launch a blog and just as with a newspaper you have to critical evaluate the product.

    Stay in touch. We’ll look for updates.

  6. Someone in the Know

    Ah Mike, my experiment worked and you fell right in to it. My point that anyone can say what they want in a blog and they don’t have to check the facts.
    A blog is great for getting someone’s opinion out and giving the public cerain peoples opinions on a subject. It shouldn’t take the place of a newspaper. A newspaper has the moral obligation to check facts and give unbias reporting. Unfortunately because of parent holding companies, etc papers in the major cities in the northeast tend to slant to the left while papers in rural areas tend to slant to the right (just as its populations do) so you don’t always get the correct story.
    It still would be great to have a local online newspaper for when paper newspapers go away sometime soon. Perhaps all the bloggers can get together and make one. Of course you’ll need volunteers or writers who will work for pennies to cover the things that you won’t want to like store openings, sporting events, and burlaries in trailer parks.
    Also, Mike you know me, but its not who you think. Maybe this will give you a hint: If someone from a major drug store chain came up to you and said they wanted to buy the Cecil County Historical Society Building for $10 million dollars and knock it down, wouldn’t it peek your interest and you would want to hear what they had to say? You know no drug store in their right mind is going to pay $10 million for land in down town Elkton, but you want to hear their story anyways…even though you also know you wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money???

  7. IN RESPONSE TO SOMEONE IN THE KNOW.
    Your point about how a blog shouldn’t take the place of a newspaper was well made. Obviously, a blog will not be able to give extensive coverage on the wide range of topics reported in most newspapers. However, I disagree with any assetion that a newspaper if essentially an unbiased news source. Consider that the Cecil Whig was originally founded as the voice of the Whig party, a venerable political instituion that has recently been enjoying a resurgence in Cecil County. The Whig regularly took editorial shots at the opposing Democrat party and in 1847, the eidtor of the Whig, Palmer Ricketts, took a actual shot at Amor Forwood, the editor of the Cecil Democrat. Ricketts mortally woundeed Forwood on the streets of Elkton one hot August day after a confrontation at the Elkton post office where both editors were trying to scoop each other by being the first to get the latest news from the Philadelphia newspapers which had just been delivered by stagecoach. No matter that Forward bought a knife to gunfight; Ricketts” killed the competiion” just the same.

    In my college journalsim class I was taught that a good reporter always cites his or her source and Someone Noticed did an extemely conscioentious job of citing sources during the blog dicussions on ELk Landing. Someone Noticed generally out manuvered the oposition while sticking to the facts. The primary source documents cited by Someone Noticed were enough to convince a reasonable and prudent person of the allegations refernce the possible sale of HELF property.
    The Cecil Whig has a record of supporting the status quo. Change is inevitable. If the Whig wishes to remain a viable news outlet it must change with the times, embrace, new technologies, and accomodate the interests of the changing demographics of the readership. Also, in the ever tightening economic climate the Whig can’t afford to be scooped on major stories by every other newspaper , television station and radio station in the region. I believe some deeper coverage of local stories would help sell more papers. I wish them good luck, at this rate they are going to need it.
    With this I remain Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant,
    Silence Nogood.

  8. What great history you gave us here! i had no idea that in the “old days” the editor of one newspaper shot the editor of the other newspaper. guess that is “shooting the messenger” as they say.

  9. Someone In the Know you’ve got really old news that you’re arguing about

    But before I some additional commentary “someone in the know” you must come out from behind the cloak the Internet provides and put your name on a piece, since you’re privy to such much. It really does help to put more weight behind statements, for me, when I can see from whom they’re coming and at that point I can start to evaluate my sources.

    Are you a Whig editor or one of those Elk Landing Officials? You sure seem to know a lot of behind the scenes thing, especially since you speculate about the Whigs motives for not reporting on what was happening in public view at town meetings. Isn’t an obligation of the newpaper to report what happens and permit the politicians, the strategizers, and developers to explain their motives for themselves. Or should the newspaper just withhold it, since it has insider information! That would like like a newspaper we remember called Pravda. I hope you’re not proposing that we have Cecil Pravada to decide what is good news to deliver to the people for the officials since you will have keen insight on their motives.

    On the rumor point, I must say that’s really old news even for the Cecil Whig. Read many of the earlier blog pieces I posted about how we have to be careful with what we read on the Net. I clipped one for you below but there are plenty more cautioning about the power of the net for spreading rumors. But “in the know,” as with the Whig, which I guess is in the insider know too, I’m glad you are both on whatever story is breaking around Cecil County so the people won’t be bothered with too many things.

    Just as blogs can spread rumors, newspapers can decide to ignore stories (and they do, trust me). There was a time when if you couldn’t get the print media to cover it in a rural area, you were going to be challenged with spread the word. Not any more, if it’s a sensitive topic and that is just a reality that all newspaper editors, Elk Landing Officials or anyone else must adjust to as they manage public relations matters.

    As you continue to speculate in a supportive such a way about Elk Landing and Elkton mtoives, you’re way off base on that one. It was publicly acquired land, recently paid for by the State of Maryland so it was in a broad public interest. The difference here was someone willing to standup and take a little heat did notice. I’ve got to believe that anywhere else, the folks charged with stewardship for preservation would put up a real fight if you were going to develop historic land. But not there! In fact inner circles of certain governments (at the local level; names removed to protect people) were sure that it would never get past the Elk Landing board. I can tell you that if I was on that board, I would have opposed it every step of the way from the time it came up.

    I recall that someone with insider knowledge of ELk Landing and someone with deep knowledge of the Elkton Alliance started a blog swarm arguing with each other on this blog once, over whether Elk Landing was doing enough to raise money and to promote itself. We stayed out of it since there were two insiders arguing over that one.

    Anyway thanks for being in the know and updating us on what’s going. Since you knew the motives early on (speculating of course?) and knew why the Whig didn’t want to tell us what was happening before their eyes, I sure wished you had come forward early on to tell us what was comin’ down the pike. That would’ve saved a lot of bad press for Elk Landing, the Town of Elkton, and saved me a lot of time.

    Do please keep us informed and feel free to sign your pieces.

    Also surf through the weblog and take a look at those early pieces on media. You will see plenty of cautions about rumors, but again I don’t want my unbiased legacy media trying the case either.

    And on the issue about the importance of print media, we couldn’t agree more. When it was once strong, long before it decided to forget deliverying content, it provided a balance in the larger society. Government officials had to worry because the walls of silence weren’t there, but if the media knew their motives I guess we wouldn’t have worried.

    This old news Elk Landing thing really has your attention. We were on the vey edge of filing a complaint with the AG since the Mayor has lost all of his Elk Landing papers, as a city official representing the public. But then they abandoned the attempt so there was no need to go ahead. I wonder what that determination might have revealed and what papers would’ve come out of there.

    ——-
    QUOTES FROM AN EARLY POST

    We are disturbed by the talk we are hearing around town and what we are reading on the Net, but we are also very familiar with the power of web-logs for stirring things up. These are serious allegations and what is needed now is for an independent, believable investigation to determine what happened at the SPCA. The allegations are considerable and now that the situation has been allowed to escalate to crisis-like proportions, the only thing that will resolve it is an independent review, which lets the public know what corrective actions, if any, are needed. If the charges are unwarranted (don’t forget they could be) and people’s names need to be cleared we certainly need to know that from highly trusted independent sources now. Or if corrective measures are needed to ensure the appropriate environment of care for the animals that needs to happen without delay as well, for this could also be the case as we look at the volume of complaints from many different individuals, many of them willing to sign legal affidavits. The bottom line here is none of us will know the concluding facts based on what we’re able to read on the Internet for there is no vetting by an unconnected authority. Perhaps in addition to whatever criminal review occurs through the Attorney General’s Office, it is time to have the National Humane Society or National SPCA come in and do a best practices examination of the quality of the animal care.

  10. Janelle Jones - CanalSide Editor

    ah….GOOD STUFF here Mike. Just think, between 1847 and 2009, how much has changed in Cecil County? Not much it would seem! :-0

  11. Crazy History Teacher

    Aw…did the mean bloggers scare the publisher!

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