How Did that Song Go, “I make my living off the evening news. . . “

In our comments section we’ve had “someone in the know” speculate on why the Whig wouldn’t inform readers about a story that was important to us, the attempt of Elk Landing and Elkton officials to let a developer have some historic public land for a commercial project.  It’s an interesting exchange, which caused us to first think of that Don Henley song, “Dirty Laundry.”  In part it goes, “I make my living off the evening news. Just give me something-something I can use. People love it when you lose, They love dirty laundry. . . “

Well that’s not the kind of media we want either, but we do want media to report what happens with the public’s business so we also recalled something we posted on another blog, Cecil Times, about the condition of local news coverage.   Cecil Times was a very lively blog, producing the best reporting we’ve seen in the local area, but it became inactive in early Nov, after a short existence.  We were hopeful that it was going to develop into a strong Cecil County-oriented virtual journalism site when it popped up.  Think if you could use the cost effective net for delivery and couple that with real-time reporting, audio, video and photographs.  What value for a community and the price would be right, especilly if there was solid reporting.

Little did I know how much the world of blogging was going to Change in Cecil when I wrote that.  It is an alternative way to spread a message.  I still hope to see more of the land preservation groups start using this method to distribute their message on develpoment issues and create more public awareness for the issues they struggle with.  A number of the Republican clubs are getting with this (or groups with that orientaiton) but just as with legacy media, those sites are going to have to deliver content if they’re going to develop any traffic and how value for the organizations.

It’s all about the content.

————————————-

Posting from Cecil Times, Oct. 2008 ———

It is interesting how we’ve started to come full circle with local news as a sought after commodity, the product that causes thousands of people to read a paper so they’ll see ads that create shareholder value. Once competition faded from the Cecil County marketplace, the corporation with its monopoly on news was safe in pulling back from investing in valued content and they’ve certainly done that over the years. When Elkton, Chesapeake City or whatever had three or four news people covering meetings, each journalist had to rush council dealings into print or get scooped. Moreover, they couldn’t stay silent on items for the others would run with it.  That rivalry created competition in the marketplace.

But once it dwindled down to the point where there was only one publisher, the corporation had complete gatekeeper power. Either through failure to invest in their product (content), simple neglect or fear or stirring things up, they decided what got covered. In Cecil County the gatekeeper function is more significant because for large parts of our area, there is no other place to turn, but this is a national scenario too. But here we don’t have television or radio broadcasters as alternatives.

By-the-way, things are different on the Susquehanna. Port Deposit and Havre de Grace have three newspapers (Record, Whig, Herald) covering those town meetings. I purchase copies of the Herald and the Record every week to get my range of western county news perspectives. In fact, one of the things I particularly appreciate about the Record is its plucky editorials. They’re not afraid to take on sacred cows and in fact I think they go looking for them. It adds value for readers and shareholders.

But in the 21st century due to changes in technology, a new medium is beginning to puncture the news monopoly for if legacy media doesn’t address it, anyone can launch a blog, covering happenings inexpensively and in near real time. I just have to look at the three bloggers paying attention to what’s happening south of the canal. While my morning paper is still one source, I surf over to those blogs to get a more in depth perspective, which is a lot more opinionated, in accordance with the norms of the blogosphere. But that’s okay for if someone will report, I’ll decide.

In my case at Someone Noticed where the situation started last March, I’d never given blogs a thought for citizen journalism or advocacy, but when I just couldn’t get the story to gather any traction in print, what alternative did I have. I’d talk to the reporter, the commissioners would argue about it, I’d even do an outline summary in my allocated five minute remark time to help provide an orientation for coverage. But then when I’d follow up with the Whig to see about coverage, I’d hear the politicians said it’s over.   We aren’t going to do anything with the land! There’s no sense running the story, we just talked with Mayor Fisona and others. Well, of course, the politicians didn’t want the story to run for why would they want coverage on something that opposed their plan and was also embarrassing. It was all designed to go quietly by, but they were continiuing to push state officials for favorable determinations.  Finally by late summer I’d given up on traditional media and launched Someone Noticed on Aug. 10. To the Whig’s credit, once the blog caused the buzz (after about 6 months), they did an excellent editorial finally saying don’t sell it and began providing coverage.

We’ll never again return to the world when one newspaper will be able to serve as the gatekeeper, since anyone will be able to now launch a blog. In fact, I’d encourage more people to do exactly that. The more the better. It’ll be good for those in the journalism profession too for it’ll make the corporation pay attention to its product, once again.

While bloggers aren’t professional journalists, readers need to recognize what they are and evaluate the angles and perspectives of the various bloggers. But at least the information monopoly is greatly alleviated and anyone can spread the news.
It really is all about the content, either in print or in new emerging mediums. I can only speculate on the changes in the years ahead as this new technology develops more and more and a younger generation grows up without the newspaper reading habit.

Just my thoughts as the journalism world changes locally and across the nation, and a new medium begins to mature.

Another Posting from Cecil Times, Oct. 2008 ——–

The more coverage of local government that we have from as many vantage points as possible the better. There was a time not too many years ago that Elkton town meeting had four journalists present (Whig, News Journal, WSER, and the Cecil County Times [an earlier weekly]). Not too long before that there were two main-stream weeklies, the Whig and the Democrat. Citizens seeking to stay informed could get real perspective on what happened at a meeting by scanning all of those sources. Moreover this real competition kept each paper and its reporters focused on making sure nothing was missed. If you did, the competition was going to scoop you.

But once competition faded, executives stopped investing in what made the products strong, original news and features, which is one reason why the industry is in the state it’s in. It’s all well profiled in business papers and websites such as http://www.newspaperdeathwatch.org.

By-the-way, the Whig has some of the finest editors and writers around. Management just needs to let their writers write and editors produce insightful columns that challenge things just a little, just a little. I know those pros are capable of fine work for I well recall many of their outstanding columns and editorials over the years, all focused on local issues. If it’s not local I don’t want it from the Whig. Most of the non-local news is a commodity, which is old by the time it arrives on my door step. I’ll get the deeper more insightful pieces from papers like the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post.

To anyone considering advocacy, wanting to cover local government, or simply their community, I say come on in the blogosphere is just fine. The barriers for entry in this new media is virtually non-existent now and I hope to see many more bloggers so I can have lots of perspectives to consider. It’ll cause executives in old media to reconsider what they’ve done to this fine industry and profession.

We used to get four newspapers a day and now we’re down to one. I can see the day when we’ll not have one subscription, unless it has lots of original local content.

But I do check out those bloggers as on source for consideration. I remember when I first discovered CanalSide and though I don’t live in Chesapeake City, I surfed over there to check get a deeper understanding of canal town happenings.  Now this summer product a great crop of weblogs.

 

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4 responses to “How Did that Song Go, “I make my living off the evening news. . . “

  1. Awsome Mike. It would be great if all the blogs could get together and put out an online paper. How about calling it “The Cecil Republican”?! You could get students and others to volunteer to do the sports and some other news that younger people will read. Good for readership!

  2. I can’t click on the link to ceciltimes here. i just get a 404 message.

  3. Louise:

    it’s fixed. Sorry about that.

  4. Hey SITK, what journalism school did you attend?

    I spent 14 years at a news desk after earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and no where did I hear an editor or a journalism teacher say a newspaper (or any other medium) has a “moral obligation” to do anything. Since the advent of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the press is free to do what it will. There are no obligations, formal or otherwise. As far as being fair and unbiased, that’s up to the owner of the medium. Ever watch Fox News or MSNBC?

    When I was in journalism school and sweating behind a news desk typewriter (yeah, those were the days before word processors and computers), there were three major criteria for covering news: one – “pocketbook issues”, i.e. money, any kind of money, public or otherwise. Two – blood and guts, any kind of blood and guts, human and otherwise. Three – health, generally public health, but just about any kind of health including the health of our animal friends.

    Someone Noticed did indeed accuse the WHIG of not reporting on several stories… and legitimately so. Based on my afore mentioned criteria for news, both the Elk Landing property exchange story and the SPCA story are news and therefore should be reported. Add the fact that government is involved, tax paper money is in the mix, and two semi public entities are also included in the form of the Historic Elk Landing Foundation and the SPCA and you’ve got yourself a couple of full blown, front page news stories that if I were still in “the business”, I’d be drooling over.

    One other thing, a public official is also involved with the SPCA story. Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, the fact that he has thrown himself into the story along with the weight of his office, the story is way too big to be ignored. Are there some “crack pots” involved? Are there some over the top protestors shouting “the sky is falling”? Sure, but that’s part of the story too.

    As for why the WHIG didn’t report, I can’t say. However, if, as you suggest, they looked into the issues and found, for example, that the Project Open Space or Maryland Historic Trust would not allow the proposed Elk Landing property exchange, they should have reported it. Not only reported it, but the WHIG should have confronted the Mayor and the Elk Landing Foundation with that fact and asked for comments. That’s how you report news… ask questions, get answers, share the answers with the public.

    If, on the other hand, as you say, there are all of these caveats to the story, the WHIG should be reporting them too. They’re all part of the story. The public should be told. While a newspaper (radio and TV are different) is under no obligation to do anything, any news department worth its salt is going to report on stories like these; that’s what the news media does… act as the eyes and ears of the public, so we the people know what’s going on.

    I agree that blogs are not and cannot be anyone’s only source of news. However, the blogosphere has become a place where ideas can be exposed and exchanged, mostly to the public’s good. The more discussion there is in an open society the better. They’re the new broadsides and pamphlets of colonial days. They aren’t the answer to the free flow of information, but they are a part of it.

    -Plutarch

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