Archive for the ‘MonroeTalks’ Category

A second Nevaeh thought

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Some afterthoughts on coverage of the Nevaeh Buchanan story.

There’s more to evaluating news coverage than timeliness. Accuracy, relevance, usefulness, balance and appropriate presentation all are important, too.

In my new role – as a college journalism professor, not a newspaper editor – commenting on the media goes with the territory. Before, my role was to explain and defend. Now it’s to analyze and evaluate.

As many people have mentioned on MonroeTalks.com, The Evening News’ coverage after a slow start has met most of those tests. I can’t say the same for some of the area TV stations.

It wouldn’t be fair to make a blanket statement about all of the television coverage, because I haven’t monitored it closely enough. Some has been very good. But some of the TV stations seemed to be more interested in exploiting the story for ratings than in presenting useful information.

They spent more of their precious on-air seconds promoting the story than reporting it. They focused more video on emotional responses than on facts. And they played rumors or minor sidebars like they were big breakthroughs, even when they knew they probably weren’t.

To be fair, that’s what TV does.  This criticism is valid for much of TV news coverage. They intensely promote because they’re in intense competition.  Given the choice, they’ll almost always push emotional video over boring facts. And they’re desperate for anything new – so they grab at rumors just to make it appear they have a hot breakthrough.  

As consumers of news, we just need to understand that about TV news, whether local or national.

Yes, monroenews.com and The Evening News  lost out to other media in this story when it comes to timeliness. The Evening News, as a news organization, usually errs on the side of being careful and cautious, not sensational.  That puts it at a disadvantage when covering a big story.

But in the long run, I think that’s a good thing. As media converge and the digital news world grows,  consumers will have more sources of news than they can imagine. I think people eventually will gravitate to the media outlets they feel they can trust.

The Evening News will get faster as it learns the ropes of the digital world. I hope there is never a next time for this kind of story. But next time Evening News reporters are faced with a big, breaking story, they’ll respond more quickly.

I hope they keep their careful approach to reporting facts, debunking rumors and maintain balance and proportion in presenting the news.

Nevaeh story highlights new media world

Monday, June 1st, 2009

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.

In the unlikely case that anyone is coming to this blog before they saw the Nevaeh story, here are links to the appropriate spots on MonroeTalks.com and monroenews.com.

MonroeTalks mirrors issues nationwide

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Two unrelated moments today got me thinking again about MonroeTalks.com.

First, a student stopped me as I walked across campus to ask if I had seen the latest flare-up on MonroeTalks involving Sojourner, a regular poster who revels in controversy.

Then on my semi-regular visit to Poynter Online, a sort of journalism think tank, I ran across a blog post by media analyst Rick Edmonds about Topix.com.

Topix aggregates news – that is, it collects news stories from a variety of sources and packages them for each community in the country.

Check under Monroe and you’ll find a bizarre collection of news, most from Detroit or Toledo Web sites.

None of the news stories are original and there is no effort to be comprehensive. So you end up with an interesting but hardly useful mish-mash of news.

More of Topix’ Web traffic seems to come from the “Talk” section, where site users can comment on anything they choose.

As with MonroeTalks.com, the conversation is varied and sometimes not very civil. Because Topix is owned by respectable newspaper companies – Gannett, Tribune and McClatchy – Edmonds questioned whether the level of uncivility is appropriate. 

He noted that newspapers have been struggling since the advent of user comments to find the balance between unfettered, open dialogue and maintaining tight enough control to satisfy their traditional high ethical standards 

Most readers of this blog probably know that until eight weeks ago I led the team of folks at The Evening News who moderate MonroeTalks.

We spent many hours discussing this very topic. But invariably we decided to err on the side of letting people have their say with as little intervention by the newspaper as possible.

That philosophy was described by Topix creator Chris Tolles as a “culture shift,” according to Edmonds.

That’s exactly what it is.

I don’t pretend to understand why the Internet is the way it is. But users of Web sites like Topix and MonroeTalks are looking for a place to express themselves – without big brother looking over their shoulders.

It was fun checking out MonroeTalks again. I’m still amazed by the depth and diversity of the comments. And yes, some are still lacking in civility.

What order should posts be in?

Friday, August 8th, 2008

It sounds so simple …

I know that’s a line from a James Taylor song, I just can’t remember which one. Help, someone?

What could be more simple than deciding the order of comments following a story on our Website.

Should reader comments start with the most recent, and go backwards, or start with the first comment, and continue chronologically?

On Monroenews.com, they start with the most recent. That way, if you’re checking back frequently, you don’t have to go hunting for the most recent comments. And if you’re coming in late and there already are many comments, it’s not that difficult to scroll to the end and read from the bottom up.

That’s the explanation I gave a recent caller who questioned why the comments are “upside down,” in his words.

And if it’s so simple, why is it just the opposite on MonroeTalks?

There, each thread starts with the original comment, and stays in chronological order. If you’re following a long thread, you can use the page links at the top of the thread to jump to the end, where the most recent comments are located.

And you can follow along even more easily by using the “Recent Posts” feature or the “Show unread posts since your last visit” feature. Both take you right to the most recent comments. If you need to catch up on what was said earlier on a thread, you can use the page links to move back and forth in the thread.

But back to the question. What do you think? Do we have it rightside up, or upside down? Should comments on stories be the same as on the forums – starting at the beginning and staying in order. Or should MonroeTalks be turned upside down, with most recent comments at the top?

It sounds so simple …

Russert, Carlin and MonroeTalks

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

One of the regular users of MonroeTalks, “Kazimer,” challenged me to think about the connection between George Carlin, Tim Russert and MonroeTalks.

Kaz sent a link to a column by Rabbi Aaron Bergman on Detnews.com that made the loose link between Russert and Carlin, noting that they both “spoke truth to power.”

Neither backed down from challenging people in authority – in their own very different ways. Russert, as host of Meet the Press, was unfailingly polite and professional while asking tough questions and insisting on real answers. Carlin took pride in being rude and irreverent, both in his comedy and in his obversations on government, religion and any other institution.

What does all that have to do with MonroeTalks?

Kaz didn’t give his opinion, but I can see the direction he was heading with the question.

As the person primarily responsible for moderating MonroeTalks.com, I take a lot of grief from both sides when there is a controversial post that some think should be deleted.

Of course, I don’t make those decisions in a vacuum. They’re often discussed by several people before a decision is made. And of course, one of the underlying principles that we hold dear at The Evening News is freedom of speech. 

When it’s a close call, we’re usually going to err on the side of leaving it. That angers some people, who think we should be more aggressive in the name of decency. Like George Carlin’s comedy, some of the comments on MonroeTalks are pretty raunchy.

When does a person’s right to free speech get trumped by the public’s right to read a community discussion forum without being offended?

That’s not a question with an easy answer. We have “Terms of Service” for MonroeTalks – as well as for the comments that follow stories on monroenews.com – that prohibit profanity, obscenity and personal attacks, among other things. That helps, and we delete any clear violations. The problem is the huge gray area.

Rabbi Bergman ended his column with a plea that perhaps holds part of the answer.

“Politicians and religious leaders around the country are probably breathing a little easier, because Russert and Carlin will not be there anymore,” he wrote.

“It is up to all of us, in our own way, to continue to demand honesty and integrity from all in public life.”

MonroeTalks is a place where everyone can say what they want – in their own way. They can challenge people in authority, speaking their own version of “truth to power.” They also can tell jokes, swap recipes for potato salad, or banter about baseball.

And they can do it all like Russert, with class and respect, or like Carlin, with sharp and vulgar humor.