The Evolution of Local Journalism Is Kinda Cool

Pioneering journalist Helen Thomas.
Pioneering journalist Helen Thomas.

The Columbia Journalism Review has a great, lengthy piece about the evolution of digital and traditional journalism and the ways they are at long last merging. The reporter starts at BuzzFeed, but also visits traditional newsrooms that have done their share of innovating. One of my favorite parts is about the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania, where staffers are encouraged to, say, live tweet storm coverage or city council hearings and get out among the people they cover:

One day each week, known as Mojo Wednesdays, Record reporters are instructed not to come into the newsroom, but to station themselves out among the people they cover. Lauren Boyer, 25, sets up at a different McDonald’s every week and calls out on social media to let readers know she’s available. Some weeks no one comes, some weeks she gets a story or meets a source.

This wasn’t what she’d envisioned coming out of college. “I just wanted to tell stories and see my name in print,” she recalls. Now, though, she’s fascinated by the challenge of blending traditional reporting with the dose of personality she adds when live-tweeting a heated public hearing.

She tries to keep the same standards on all platforms—if people make defamatory comments at a hearing, she won’t tweet them, just as she wouldn’t put them in print. But she’s more friendly on social media than in the Record, more herself, and she likes that. It’s not lowering standards, just using a different voice, she says. But she adds: “Working like we do, you have to be so much more careful because you can make a mistake so easily on the internet.”

I love moments when I can praise the benefits of technology rather than complaining about it, and this is one of them: How great that somehow “impersonal” technology has helped connect reporters more to their readers — to the point where they’re required to physically spend time among them! I used to try to hang out at local coffee shops in the towns I covered when I was a newspaper reporter, but there never seemed to be time. Brilliant beat-coverage technique, York Daily Record. Local journalism isn’t dead just yet!

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