The tragic disappearance of Nevaeh Buchanan brings Monroe and its small-town newspaper face-to-face with two dramatic media trends.
One, the emergence of social media as a force in news coverage, and two, how a “big story” engulfs a community like never before.
By now it has been well documented on local talk forums that the Monroe Evening News and monroenews.com were slow to react to the breaking Nevaeh story. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a community newspaper with a small staff – 6 p.m. on a Sunday night before a Monday holiday.
The Evening News published a morning paper on Memorial Day, so there was no reason for any reporters to be in the office Monday morning. The story broke on the Amber Alert Web site and was roaring along on MonroeTalks.com for hours before the first news story was posted on monroenews.com.
In my view, this is a fascinating glimpse into the future of news coverage in the digital era.
Gone is the day when news organizations are first to cover breaking news. The plane crash in the Hudson River this spring was first reported on Twitter by a bystander with a cell phone. As more and more people are linked to the world by a device they carry in a pocket, it stands to reason that first-hand reports of news events will come from onlookers before any media can arrive.
That’s one of the reasons The Evening News created MonroeTalks.com. Remember, it started more than three years ago with the “Eyes and Ears” forum on monroenews.com. The idea was that readers could be the eyes and ears of the community, posting news of traffic snarls or severe weather or whatever else.
That evolved into MonroeTalks.com, which has been an award-winning example of a local news organization creating its own social network.
So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the most robust discussion of the Nevaeh story has been on MonroeTalks.com. That’s why it was created.
And once news reporters at The Evening News got on top of the Nevaeh story, they’ve done an excellent job keeping readers posted on the latest news, creating a separate page on the Web site to organize the coverage, linking to other Web sources, blogging on the coverage and responding to comments on MonroeTalks.com.
I’m sure this has been a tremendous opportunity for The Evening News staff to see the power of social networking and its role in news coverage.
When a big story hits a community, people used to wait around for the 6 p.m. news and the daily newspaper. Now they’re on their computers and smart phones, joining the fray, sharing news (and rumors), offering opinions and links to other news and social network sites. An entire community can be engulfed by the story in minutes.
One of the coolest features of this new world order for media is how well the traditional news media and the new social network together provide readers with a more complete picture. Staffers at The Evening News have reported every detail of the news that can be confirmed, as well as extensive coverage of the community response. Meanwhile, MonroeTalks.com has been part of a rich, diverse network that inclues YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other sites, providing a wealth of information, links, rumors, prayers, opinions and diatribes.
Of course, MonroeTalks.com and other social networking sites are the ultimate example of “reader beware.” You can’t assume anything is accurate. Mixed with the good information and thoughtful opinions are awful posts that spread falsities, hate and fear. But that comes with the territory, and regular users of social media get pretty good at just ignoring the bad stuff.
Between the news coverage on monroenews.com and the print edition of The Evening News, and the discussion on MonroeTalks.com, the Nevaeh story has brought the Monroe community together in a way perhaps never seen before. Certainly, more people have never participated in a story.
As they get better at embracing social networking as part of their coverage, Evening News reporters will do more blogging, link more widely to other sources on the Internet, provide more video and other multi-media coverage, and send their online reports directly to mobile devices.
But all-in-all, other than the slow holiday response, this story has been a good look at the future of news coverage, and monroenews.com and MonroeTalks.com made a pretty solid team.