In an emergency, the newspaper should up its news cycle
By Ken Blum
As storms go, it was a near blizzapocalypse. Main highways were not only treacherous, but completely shut down by authorities. Sparks sizzled from downed wires. Power outages were everywhere.
Schools and businesses were shut tight.
It lasted for more than 24 hours, awesome but beautiful if you’re a fan of Ma Nature’s spectacles.
Enough was enough after the wind and snow subsided. I was getting a jail cell feeling in my hotel room. I was more than ready to hit the Canadian highway and return home to Ohio.
But was the highway open? If it was, what were the odds of staying out of a ditch?
To find out, I went to the Web. After Googling around for a half hour or so, I finally found the latest information I needed—on a radio station’s website.
A RADIO STATION’S SITE!
For crying out loud, a radio station’s website isn’t the place where you should need to go for spot emergency news. Radio stations are good at playing Kenny Chesney songs, covering high school basketball games, or featuring talk show maniacs.
Except in very rare cases, they aren’t staffed with bona fide journalists as hometown newspapers are.
The town had an excellent newspaper. It had two newspapers, actually—my client’s newspaper was the excellent one.
But neither paper’s site offered a line about the storm that had blown through town like a wild herd of moose.
For that information you needed to go to, again, yuk, the radio station or its website.
Which brings up the question—what are newspaper websites for?
They shouldn’t be for giving away all the news content from the print product for free.
However that doesn’t apply to spot/near emergency news and information that the community longs for immediately.
Forget about a weekly-semiweekly-daily press cycle. In an emergency, the paper needs to assume the role of an hourly news cycle. The news staff needs to climb out from under their toasty warm blankies at 3 a.m. and get the stories out to the public. Those stories need to be posted on the site for free, even if the site offers a paid electronic version.
This all-out effort doesn’t have anything to with the newspaper as a business. It does have to do with its role as the community town crier. When things are tense, citizens don’t need to hear the British are coming the Wednesday after they came.
You wanted a website. Now you have it. Be a true grit journalist and use it to serve your community when it needs you the most.
© Ken Blum 2011
Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a free e-mail newsletter 40 times a year titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or phone 330-682-3416.
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