Mark down yesterday’s date—Tuesday, July 24th, 2012—because in years to come we may look back and consider it a watershed in the evolution of local media.
On that date, the three top headlines in the County’s only daily paper, The Register-Star, all were stories previously reported on a “micronews” blog, Carole Osterink’s The Gossips of Rivertown.
Their first top story on Tuesday concerned a vote by the board and members of Acres Co-op to continue their pursuit of establishing a local food market, despite repeated setbacks. The second reported the decision by Premier Brands to abandon plans for the former Emsig button factory building. The third updated the mistaken debate about the location of shacks at the Furgary Boat Club.
Osterink beat the Register on each of these stories on the previous Sunday, Friday and Monday, respectively, forcing the paper (which did not publish online until late 2002, and does not publish a print edition on Sunday or Monday) to play catchup.
“Most of the time, it’s just a case of us both attending the same meeting and me getting my story up sooner,” said Osterink, a former Hudson alderman, in an interview on Wednesday. Clearly, Osterink is faster to the punch when it comes to leaving a meeting and typing up her account. But in some instances, such as the Premier Brands revelation which came as a result of a question asked solely by Osterink at a sparsely-attended commitee meeting, the scent from blog to print is easy to track.
Reflecting perhaps its sense of embattlement, and the frequent criticism it receives from independent media, the Register has rarely if ever recognized area bloggers’s existence—let alone crediting them with breaking stories the paper later picks up. (In this site’s case, the Register even has stopped authorizing my rare posts in its comments section.) When serious news organizations such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post piggyback on each others’ leads and stories, they consider it good form to acknowledge who got there first.
Now, given its far greater infrastructure, resources, and coziness with official sources, The Register does still get stories first sometimes, and it reports many events not covered by any area blogs, however cursorily or shabbily. Moreover, many posts on blogs like Gossips are reactions or simply “of interest” links to stories and opinions posted in the Register. Furthermore, it can be beneficial for local news sources to duplicate efforts when they ask different questions or present different points of view. The relationship between traditional and independent media can be, at its best, symbiotic.
But the striking sequence of the paper’s top Tuesday headlines is at minimum a strong indication of the ability of independent online media to beat traditional media in both thoroughness and timeliness. If every Columbia County town had as much blog coverage as Hudson, the public would be far better informed, and both the media and politicians would be held more accountable.