The Rapidian

You, with your ear to the ground!

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From The Rapidian staff

Each week, a Rapidian staffer will publish a piece related to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site. Click here for past editorials.

From The Rapidian staff: During our press pit last week about breaking news, Grand Rapids Press' Web Producer Kate Nagengast made some very good points. It was the day after a cancelled Grand Rapids Public Schools board meeting. Emotions were running high around GR. Even single folk, supposedly in the most selfish time of their lives, had heard about what happened.

The Press had been on the scene and delivered a breaking news story. Not the typical breaking news; no fire, no accident or crime. It was a school board meeting plastered by 250 angry constituents—double the capacity of the meeting room.

My mind clicked and whirred with Kate's insights about how to recognize breaking news.

Not all breaking news is unpredictable, she said. Sometimes it's orchestrated. You follow a beat, talk to parents, hear the emotion and outrage and sense that soon enough, everything will come to a boiling point.

What Kate was talking about was recognizing trends.

There was a time when news was steady and anchors and columnists commanded trust. There was a time when reporters covered specific beats for years, decades even. Those were the days when journalism could afford such attentiveness and when being a journalist was a romantic idea.

Snap back to the present day as budgets shrink, reporters generalize and professionals subsist off part-time pay. When we no longer have the privilege of embedded journalists with their knack for making predictions based on observation, it's up to us community members whose ears are automatically to the ground.

Having been around different facets of media, from a small town paper to advocacy journalism to community media and now citizen reporting, I've heard a fair share of criticism for the state of media.

There is always something to pick on, whether it's the lack of coverage, error of omission or bleeding and leading. Over time, I've realized it accomplishes nothing to think adversarially and pit outlet against outlet or the public against mainstream media. In this day and age, there are brownouts in neighborhood coverage, and nobody believes that's a good thing.

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