Tuesday, April 27, 2010

News a new way

Choices and opportunities are in no short supply these days, and we are working not only to present them to our readers, but to offer them on whatever screen or piece of paper that comes into view. These options are changing dramatically the way we work in journalism.
Consider Friday April 9: The day began with the report of a road-rage shooting on Route 422 near Oaks. The news of the shooting was immediately posted to www.pottsmerc.com and simultaneously to our Facebook page at PottstownMercury and sent to those following MercuryX on Twitter.
The importance of this immediacy went beyond grabbing audience attention; it also served a purpose to broadcast for police the description and license number of the car and driver they were seeking as a suspect in the shooting.
As the day wore on, 422 commuters became a reporting force, alerting others to the whereabouts of this suspected errant driver and sharing information. John Yannarell went to a lawyer and turned himself in within hours because he learned that his license number was being broadcast throughout the greater Philadelphia area.
A byproduct of these immediate news blasts and the all-inclusive nature of online reporting is that the readers become a part of the story. By day’s end on April 9, we learned through our readers’ reporting that this was not the first time a car fitting the description’s of Yannarell’s was seen involved in highway games of cat-and-mouse.
When I began my career as a reporter here, we drove to reporting assignments in company-owned cars that invited “Call The Mercury at 323-3000 with News Tips!” Today, we invite readers to let us know what’s going on around them by telling us on Facebook or our Web site or on Twitter. We still answer the phones, but more and more, we find people sharing news with us online.
The See-Click-Fix partnership on our Web site is one example. Readers report what they see wrong in their communities that needs fixing -- unmowed grass, potholes, unplowed streets, signs down, abandoned properties -- and the site maps the location. We are already seeing results as municipalities respond to the reports on our Web site.
The ability of many people to report on what’s going on around them is bringing the outside in to our newsroom. In years past, newspapers may have fought this trend, defending our turf holding shields of Fourth Estate importance to ward off the masses. But if the tough times our industry has endured in recent years have taught us anything, it is to embrace the online world, not fight it.
Last week we began the next phase of our program to involve readers as writers and let the audience help write the play. Our first Community Media Lab was launched, forging a partnership with bloggers on Town Square at www.pottsmerc.com
The Community Media Lab is a community-focused program that partners Pottstown tri-county area residents with The Mercury’s reporters and editors. All we ask is that you have an interest in improving your community, be willing to dedicate time to reporting on the issues you feel are important to area residents, and participate in our training program.
We will give you access to our staff and our newsroom, provide you with training, give you a larger audience and a stronger voice. We invite bloggers to write about their interests and their towns, to tell us and their readers who they are in the interests of transparency. In turn, we will spotlight those community blogs and promote them as a Town Square of resources for the Pottstown area.
The initiative is part of a larger grand plan of Journal Register Company to transform the media business. Also last week, Journal Register CEO John Paton has challenged two publications in the company to gather and produce a news product using only the tools available online to anyone for free.
The experiment, known as The Ben Franklin Project, is unfolding right in Montgomery County, where the staff of the small weekly Perkasie News-Herald, Tuesday night hosted residents in the Sellersville Theater at a town meeting on producing a news product from the ground up.
The Ben Franklin Project is already being watched and reported on – tweeted and linked – among media watchers throughout the world. Media watchers just like you – our audience of readers online, on mobile, on 3G networks, in voice, print and video.
We invite you to join us in watching the progress of this experiment as our company helps redefine media and join us at a Community Media Lab as we work to make the Pottstown tri-county area a better place to live.

You can watch the progress of Montgomery County of the The Ben Franklin Project at http://jrcbenfranklinproject.wordpress.com
Join our Community Media Lab by contacting Nancy March at nmarch@pottsmerc.com or 610-970-4470. Follow me on Twitter at merceditor

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