Tag Archives: social networking

Beatblogging success story: The “Open for Business” sign

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.

One of the first results took her to The Hershey Home, the Ning network I set up for the beatblogging project. The resident she sought has been a frequent contributor to the network.

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.

The newspaper site as community connector

Newspapers have a tremendous opportunity to re-brand themselves as the center of the online community, connecting people to each other in every way possible.

But that window is so enormously small, I fear very few papers will take advantage. It’ll be a fatal blow, and we’ll be kicking ourselves that there weren’t more entrepreneurs inside the industry at this ripe time.

The newspaper site could be the home to all of the forums, the blogs, the social networking, the matchmaking, the businesses, the schools, and the community organization. Right now that’s all fragmented across the Web, and frankly a bit overwhelming for people who don’t constantly consume that kind of media.

Imagine if that were all concentrated in one hyper-local place? A place that has an already-strong brand name in place, a name that’s been a core part of the community since the 19th century?

Sounds pretty ideal to me. Giving people a voice has always been a fundamental mission of newspapers, and the letters page no longer cuts it.

But that role needs to be expanded to connecting people online, and right now a lot of other people are figuring that out much quicker. Someone in Harrisburg could:

  • Read local bloggers, discover local Twitter users or use the forums at blogHarrisburg
  • Find events at Spotobe
  • Find other college students at Facebook or MySpace
  • Try to determine which of the billion dating sites has lured the most potential dates

And Harrisburg area college students might soon have their own local network, if this entry at Ideablob gains any momentum.

All of this is happening outside of the newspaper site. Some of it is happening at newspaper sites, too, but the local entrepreneurs have figured out better ways to do it.

It all could have been centered at the newspaper site if the newspaper site thought of it first. Time to think of something first…and I’ll offer some of my ideas in a post soon.