Coverage suffers when less reporters meet social media’s short news cycle

Coverage of local news is hurting because there are less journalists out pounding the pavement, the U.S. Federal Communictions Commission announced in a report, out last week.
Meanwhile, with less journalists to check facts, rumours or things that are misreported can spread like wildfire, thanks to social media, wrote Bob Garfield in a piece for Mashable yesterday.

Most original reporting was once done by beat reporters at newspapers. The FCC report stated that daily newspapers have cut their staffs by more than 25 percent from 2006 to 2009, as ad revenue dropped 47 percent between 2005 and 2009. This has caused a domino effect in coverage from newspapers to other platforms, including TV, radio and more.

One example of an outlet aiming to fill that 25 percent (or more) gap is U.S. online news site Patch.

“Local daily newspapers no longer have the staff and resources to get to every borough council or township supervisors’ meeting in their coverage area,” wrote Margie Peterson, a Patch staffer. “The journalists I know love the work but can’t afford to do it for free. Show me someone who sits through all municipal meetings and writes about them for free and I’ll show you a person with an agenda.”

Unfortunately, Patch and others like it don’t have the funds to even come close to making up for the huge drop in reporters.

So what can happen when a local journalist isn’t on the ground to verify facts firsthand, and social media catches hold of it?

Garfield used the example of a story in Texas last week, in which it was incorrectly reported that dismembered bodies were found near Houston. Within hours, top news outlets including The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, BBC, SkyNews, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and more reported that dozens of bodies were discovered. The reports went out via Twitter, Facebook, the news outlets’ websites, TV and more.

“In the frenzied first 30 minutes of activity, one news organisation after another built its wrong reporting upon the wrong reporting of others — The Times citing Reuters citing ‘local media’ citing, in some cases, nobody,” Garfield stated.

The FCC report stated that there are more places to find online reporting today more than ever; however, these outlets are mostly commentators, not hard news. Content creation and news reporting are not the same thing.

“An abundance of media outlets does not translate into an abundance of reporting. In many communities, there are now more outlets, but less local accountability reporting,” the FCC report points out. “They can describe the landscape, but they have less time to turn over rocks. They can convey what they see before their eyes – often better and faster than ever – but they have less time to discover the stories lurking in the shadows or to unearth the information that powerful institutions want to conceal.”

Image: Moleskine UK

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