When the social networks beat you to the story

Update below

While this post is about the News & Record, I suspect it applies to news organizations everywhere.

On Saturday, I read a Facebook post by Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad saying that his father had passed away. Ken Conrad was a longtime owner of Libby Hill Seafood and a community leader for years.

A story about his death didn’t make the newspaper until this morning, two days later. (It was published on the paper’s website around noon Monday.)

Also on Saturday, I read a story on Facebook about a local state legislator complaining about being stopped by the state Highway Patrol for, essentially, “driving while black.”  My feed was actually little late to the story; WBTV in Charlotte had posted the story Friday.

That story didn’t make the newspaper until this morning either.

There are several possible reasons for this. Most likely, the paper is staffed too thin on weekends so it couldn’t get to the stories that aren’t preplanned. It’s also possible that no one saw the stories on social media or the web and therefore didn’t know about them. In any case, on Monday, with more reporters on duty, the paper jumped on both. Still, that’s more than 24 hours late.

This all points to a larger problem. When I see something on the social networks, I expect my primary news source to have it. Maybe not immediately — I understand how news is developed — but soon. I expect my primary news source to add perspective and context. I expect it to lend credibility to the subject.

When it doesn’t, when it is silent for two full days, it hurts the paper’s credibility and usefulness.

Imagined Tuesday morning conversation:

Him: “Did you read in the paper that Ken Conrad died?”

Her: “Yes, I saw that a couple days ago. Sad.”

Him: “Oh. Did you see the thing today about the state legislator getting stopped for a seat-belt violation?”

Her: “Yeah, I saw it on Facebook Saturday.”

With reduced staffing, there is a clear need for at least one process to be established. Build a strong social media network and mine it for stories, especially during the times when you don’t have many hands on deck.

The story about the legislator was headlined “Breaking news” even when it wasn’t. Newspapers lost the breaking news advantage years ago. It’s time they understood that. What they shouldn’t do is let go of the role of providing perspective and judgment. When they wait for 48 hours to report a story, they’ve lost it.

The community can help you to find and report the news, particularly when you’re short-staffed. But you’ve got to use it.

UpdateSmart addition from Dave Winer.

2 thoughts on “When the social networks beat you to the story

  1. Pingback: When the social networks beat you to the story | Greensboro 101

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