Citizen Journalism Returning us to a Time in Cecil When Coverage is What’s Important

An informed reader of Someone Noticed and the New York Times pointed out an article on the Internet about how the growth of citizen journalism is returning us to a time when we have more coverage of local news. “We’re returning to an era when we get news from more than one source again, human beings, rather than one monopoly newspaper sending out as few people as possible so it can make as much money as possible. It’s a new golden age,” was the quote from the national newspaper.

We agree. It is interesting how we’ve started to come full circle with much more local news coverage becoming available from multiple sources. (By-the-way, in case the publishers and executives aren’t aware of it, that’s 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 local government had three or four news-people covering meetings, each journalist had to rush council businesses 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 and it was good for readers, local government and the industry.

But once it dwindled down to the point where there was only one publisher, the corporation had complete gatekeeper power and executives stopped investing in what made the product strong, original news and features.  This is one of the reasons the industry is in its current condition. Either through failure to invest in their product (content), simple neglect, or fear of stirring things up, they decided what got covered. In Cecil County that gatekeeper function was more significant because for large parts of our area, there was no other place to turn as alternatives didn’t exist.

We think most readers would agree.  If someone will report, they’ll decide. The problem is when news is filtered for subscribers, they don’t have information to evaluate, question and consider. But if it doesn’t get any ink, how are we going to independently evaluate articles and conclusions.

By-the-way, what got us started on this subject this stormy Saturday morning in March, as high winds rocks Cecil and heavy rain pours down is the fresh arrival of a site providing original local content on the World Wide Web called “Cecil County Spending: Taxed Enough Already!” We’ve read through it and found informative information that provides us with insight to consider on the Cecil County budget. We hope to see much more from this local content provider, since we want more information.

Anyone trying to cover local government knows how challenging it can be to pull together informed stories. There are a number of reasons for that, ranging from officials ducking behind closed doors to conduct public business on one end to merely the complexity of local issues, where officials have access to lots of professional staff attorneys, engineers, lobbyist, marketing specialist, writers and much more to help them.

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6 responses to “Citizen Journalism Returning us to a Time in Cecil When Coverage is What’s Important

  1. While you are right that it is much needed to get information from more than one source, I strongly disagree that this entity you have cited is a ‘reliable” or even an “informed” source of information.

    This “source” is the Tea Party folks/Young Republicans/Delegate Mike Smigiel faction. You might not recall, but Smigiel has had a long running campaign against the county Office of Economic Development because that entity reported the facts that many businesses were willing to accept an “impact fee” to make sure that there was infrastructure in the growth corridor. Smigiel opposed it. The state legislature passed it, but the current commissioners have been too chicken to implement it.
    You are usually very balanced and fair. It is not the case with “peter zenger” posting on topix.net with non-stop “young republicans” advocacy and biased attacks. I hope this site will not become yet another Republican advocacy site.

  2. Just to add: looking up the registration on this “cecil county spending” site, it is anonymously registered to a PO box in Vancouver, Washington and the only way to contact them is via Express Mail or USPS certified mail, which of course cost a lot of $. The content is obviously from the Cecil Young Republicans, but why are they hiding their registration of this website behind a west coast entity? Why not have a local phone number and address to contact? Sound sleazy to me.

  3. Lousie:

    As a regular, critical reader of lots of things, on the net and elsewhere, I figured out the branding source (Young Republicans) immediately. (They know the technology, though there isn’t much of a challenge to that these days and it is their message.) Recognizing that particular perspective immediately, I read the piece on IT and it provided valuable information for me to consider and I’ll stick with the assessment tha IT was a balanced one. The conclusion, given that we both identified it as the Young Republicans and are familiar with the organization’s particular perspective on governmental operations, was that the IT department was operating efficiently for the taxpayers of Cecil County. What an endorsement for the Cecil Co. IT dept.

    That’s exactly the way I read pieces produced by other politicians, drug companies, and other trying to persuade me on some matter. Recognize the potential basis of the source, see how critical they are of the data, and assess the conclusions based on their arguments.

    Sure meets the fair and balanced theme t0 me on this one. Can’t speak for others, since we’ll have to wait and see.

    But I’ll stick to my original argument. If someone will report, I’ll decide. My problem is I can’t dig into these matters, often don’t have the knowledge to evaluate things when they have marketing professionals, engineers, and lawyers helping them, and no other main stream media is going to provide the info for me to evaluate.

  4. On your 2nd comment, I’ve always believed that publishers of material on the net should ID themselves. When I started Someone Noticed because the Whig wouldn’t cover an important news matter, I immediately made the determination that I’d put my name on it right up front.

    I belive it helps people assess validity and it is something I look for when reading a piece. When I can’t ID the source, I have to question what’s going on behind the scenes.

    While I’m sure we’re both correct on the source of this one, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t provide info under the about us or something like that.

    But, just to add something after I wrote this, I surfed back over to the new site and I see there are first names attached to each posting and readers of the conservative Cecil County blog sites will be familiar with those names. So I they’re are reaching part of that identifying concern.

    Not sure about where they’re registered and things. These days it doesn’t matter where you purchased it hosting service.

    Still I’m happy to have the info since I won’t have it from elsewhere. And if they slam someone without supporting facts, I’ll know that too.

    Anyway thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  5. I read the comments after checking out the website, and the comments expressed points that I also endorse, for the website on spending taxes or any other public oriented website.

    The first thing I looked for when I went to the website was the “about us” section – there wasn’t any. I agree that information provided by citizen journalists is important – but I want to know who the citizen journalists are when I read their comments. The internet has many strengths for a democracy, but anonymity isn’t one of them (except in societies that lack a strong tradition for freedom of speech). When critically evaluating information, it is helpful to know the originator who stands behind the report – their reputation for fairness, accuracy and credibility, their willingness to be held accountable for what they present, their motives and viewpoints, whether or not he, she, or they speak as an individual or they represent a specific organization is helpful when critically evaluating information. Buried in one report was at least an acknowledgment by the writer that he (or she or they) is (are) a registered Republican to right of center but, and I am paraphrasing here, he (or she, or they) are expressing the concerns of all citizens for more fiscal responsibility in government. Even that little bit of information, along with names, would be helpful upfront in an “about us” section; and even more so if it identified an organization that might be behind the “us.”
    One the one hand, I welcome the information they provide if it is accurate and fairly presented – the more transparency the better for a democracy. One the other hand, if the website is not simply anonymous (which is problematic enough), but hiding behind a west coast shell then the site becomes suspect – the more transparency the better for a website advocating in a democracy.

  6. Milt:

    Great points there and I agree. Thanks for posting these logical observations. When people go to all this trouble, I’m not sure why they don’t do an about us section or something so everyone knows where the work is coming from.

    Thanks.

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