Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 16, 2014

Social media or old-school tip: Newspaper blends tradition and technology

Back in the day, story tips came from a variety of sources — anonymous letters, phone calls and even random strangers in line at the grocery store. Some were legit and ended up as A-1 stories. Others, not so much. Today, such sources still provide many ideas for front-page features. But there is another significant force that allows journalists a glimpse into community hot topics — social media.

Lifestyles Editor Jamie Null is our go-to Facebook stalker. In some circles, such a title might be an insult — not so in a newsroom. In fact, it’s a compliment of the highest order.

When individuals are arrested for a crime, Jamie is the first to find them on Facebook, giving us a glimpse into their personal lives. We can see photos from their family vacations, learn their relationship status and view postings that range from rants to poetry and prose. It’s a bit odd, this new form of social background check, but it is also strange that people would post such personal information for all the world to see with a simple click of the mouse.

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In addition to background on alleged criminals, social media also allows journalists insight into topics of interest in the community. Last week, the buzz words were raw chicken.

I learned about this late Monday evening via a text from Jamie. “I heard Princeton Middle School served raw chicken today ... Ew,” she wrote.

My response mirrored hers. “Ewww! Did anyone get art? Lol.”

I was joking, but Jamie delivered. Minutes later a photo of the offending fowl appeared on my phone screen, with the words, “There ya go boss :)”

I was amazed. Ten years ago journalists would have spent hours tracking down sources, images and supporting facts to back up such a severe claim as undercooked lunchroom fare. Jamie, through her Facebook sources, had all the info in a couple of minutes.

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Regrettably, news of the raw chicken had not yet made it to my preferred social media platform — Twitter. As someone with the attention span of a gnat, I find that “140 characters or less” best suits my personality. But most of the people in my network are journalists from Charleston, Morgantown and other areas of West Virginia and Virginia.

While there are a few local folks who tweet regularly, they seem to be the social media exception. It’s a shame that more area individuals don’t engage in the quick and succinct Twittersphere.

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Tuesday morning, reporter Anne Elgin was able to confirm reports of the raw chicken — or, as school personnel described it, “undercooked.” We posted an initial story to our website, and Greg Jordan fleshed out more details for an in-depth report to follow.

The story drew an immediate response on the Daily Telegraph’s Facebook page, with people commenting on the incident and alleging undercooked food at other schools.

It was interesting that during Greg’s interviews many school officials asked that those with lunch complaints contact them to alert them of problems instead of just posting on Facebook. It seems some school board members are not social media savvy.

Maybe they need their own Jamie.

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If the raw chicken wasn’t gross enough, late Tuesday afternoon we received another news tip old-school style. A telephone caller alerted us to a possible fish kill in Laurel Creek. Greg and photographer Jon Bolt headed to the scene. Soon they called the newsroom to let us know the fish kill stemmed from a motor vehicle accident the night before on Interstate 77. Chemicals used to extinguish a car fire had seeped into the creek.

Greg and Jon got the story, and later I watched as copy editor Jackie Puglisi attempted to tastefully arrange photos of raw chicken and dead fish on the pages of the next day’s edition. I hoped those reading the paper while enjoying their morning breakfast had strong stomachs.

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Two days later I was giving a tour of the Daily Telegraph to Bluefield College journalism students. Hyped up on coffee, Pixie Stix and other sugary snacks (the daily newsroom diet), I attempted to explain the modern role of a newspaper and its integration into the age of technology.

I snapped their photo, tweeted it and then showed them how the post displayed on our Internet homepage. I called up our e-edition on my iPad, then walked them through the Daily Telegraph building for a firsthand look at the three-stories-tall printing press.

I explained the convergence of print journalism with the Internet, and our role in a multimedia industry. The students asked a lot of good questions, and by the time we finished our tour I felt they had a good understanding of a community newspaper in a high-tech world.

Walking back into the newsroom, I saw that Jamie was perusing Facebook for new leads while Greg was working diligently on a follow-up to the fish kill story.

Old school or new, it’s an exciting age for journalism.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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