Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Communications Enhance News Investigations

If information is needed, especially at times of great emergency, the source needs to be credible. Where news is being gathered, speed and accuracy are of more immediate interest than distracting questions of high status and rank.

A young boy in the movie "The Changeling" isn't at first believed when he confesses. He is thought too young, too transient and mentally ill, to be taken seriously. The mighty Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1929 has more urgent problems. The police administration need to burnish their image above all as competent crime-solvers. The movie proves that solutions to mysteries can come from any direction. All angles need to be considered and explored.

National Public Radio (NPR) had a wide-ranging segment this afternoon concerning the future of newspapers and investigative journalism and alternative news sources. It was a discussion concerning online alternatives to local newspapers, how they are funded and whether they employ journalists, and advertise to make money.

Interesting, educated webmasters were interviewed for important online news sites, like Patch.com in New Jersey, and "Voice of San Diego". Some local sites tend to focus on "hyper"-local news, and can easily be updated in great detail online, such as the weather and local meetings of organizations. They're an important alternative to powerful voices in local newspapers and they provide quick, alternative online news sources especially valuable for local news as an alternative to television and radio. For example, forest fires can be illustrated in maps online, earthquakes and changing news information can be updated constantly. Online advertisements sites bring products that were completely unavailable in aggregated form in the past.

It has long been a problem that local newspapers have the advantages and disadvantages of local impact. Their best news articles sometimes stay local. In the past they've focused on the interests of the majority of the population leaving the minority disenfranchised. They can also sometimes be, perhaps unknowingly or unacknowledged, narrow-minded and partisan. Also, if newspapers are mailed, events described can be too late to attend (a frequent problem with my local paper, published weekly).

On the other hand, national newspapers can be well-edited researched paragons of excellence. They can be thoughtful, carefully vetted repositories of modern debate and news. At best, they're impartial sources of helpful news, advice and knowledge. They can illustrate the best of civilized society, with wide-ranging and thoughtfully crafted international and national news articles. They hold an important, unique niche in modern society that many citizens cherish.

Locally, there aren't enough focused news sources in our area of New Jersey, as nj.com and local papers online miss some news as my last post tells. Perhaps, we need local versions of The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.

U.S.A. Today is one of the nation's most popular newspapers, perhaps because of its national focus. The New York Times has many prize-winning journalists. Television news has important real-time and investigative news stories that expose in living color very immediate issues. All news sources would appear to have strengths and weaknesses.

Machines can't trump humans when we need the human touch to make sense of the importance of news stories. Otherwise the silliest stories trump serious news as digg.com sometimes shows. Humans need to use computers to serve as tools to enhance communications and aid news investigations.

Do you want newspapers to survive? Please let me know what you think.

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