Steve Outing makes a compelling case about why a newspaper Web site, as soon at it hears something that people in its audience are going to want to know about, they should publish it.
Even if you, as a news editor, decide that this threat at a local high school is not earth-shattering to the whole community — or you don’t want to publish prematurely for fear of inducing panic — it is INCREDIBLY important to the couple thousand families with kids going to the school. My wife and I had to decide whether to send my daughter to school or not on the 18th based on very little information.
Faced with a need for information, the obvious place to turn is the local daily newspaper or local TV news outlets and their websites. But the evening of the 17th, the professional journalists were of no help.
If newspapers want to remain relevant in the Internet age, then I think that they’ve got to figure out how to be useful in instances like this. A segment of the Boulder community desperately wanted information now, not the next morning. Newspapers need to learn how to better collect it and deliver it.
My daughter had some information. Know where she got it? MySpace and Instant Messenger. Fairview students spent the evening of the 17th posting gossip and news about whether or not they were going to school on each others’ MySpace pages. And they IM’ed each other. I watched this in action on my daughter’s computer.
Was the information accurate? Much of it about the actual threat, probably not. Was it gossip? Much of it, probably. But it’s all anyone had that evening.
The Web isn’t about breaking news. It’s about continuous information. You report stuff as it happens or as you learn it. Even incomplete information is better than no information.