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.