I love the beatblogging project because it’s innovation in real newsroom laboratories, as opposed to tsk-tsking and dreaming.
My foray into it has had its ups and downs, but I recently had a kind of success story that I didn’t expect when I signed up.
And it shows why I believe so much that social networking can revolutionize small-town beat reporting.
A woman in the town I cover believed that she had spotted an injustice. (I won’t go into detail for competitive reasons, and because my work on the possible story is ongoing.)
But she didn’t know what to do with this knowledge, so like any other computer user, she turned to Google. She typed in the name of a resident in town who her neighbors had recommended, a person who might know what to do with this information.
Once there, she strolled around the site. She read all of my solicitations for story ideas, background information on stories I was already working on, and feedback for stories I’ve already written. She went ahead and e-mailed me to set up a meeting.
After she spilled the beans at our meeting, I asked her why she contacted me.
“I just read through your comments on the site, and you seemed like the type of person who would want to hear this,” she responded.
Imagine that! I may have stumbled upon a high-impact story based on a tip from a person who isn’t even a member of the network. She chose to contact a reporter because the network put up an “Open for Business” sign, and revealed that I have a genuine interest in hearing from as many residents as possible.
An obligatory listing of our e-mail address at the end of our stories doesn’t invite our readers to contact us, it just allows them to. Setting up this kind of network, interacting with people online, and really advertising that we really, really do want to hear from people can directly lead to stories.