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.