The fascinating story of how the shooting of a teenager in Florida became an international news story, is told by Kelly McBride, a journalist working for the Poynter Institute.
Ten years ago Trayvon Martin’s family would have had a hard time getting the national media’s attention. But with the help of a few bloggers, Change.org, and social media, they managed to put increasing pressure on the Sanford, Fla., Police Department to charge their son’s killer and release the 911 recordings. When they prevailed on that second goal a week ago, they got the break they needed.
When Barack Obama said yesterday that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon, a world audience on peak-time TV news was assured.
It was back on February 26 that Trayvon was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch person in Sanford, Florida.
The Orlando Sentinal carried a brief story the following day, but did not follow it up for 8 days. The paper used to have an office in Sanford. The editor told McBride he believed that if they still had that office they would have heard about the details sooner.
If this story of cuts affecting local news coverage by mainstream media sounds familiar, it is because it is happening in many parts of the world.
It is the people close to events who bring them the wider attention that gets things done. With regional and local newspaper reporters thinner on the ground the people who are close are often those who use social media.
But newspapers have been slow to harness this resource by working together with bloggers and tweeters.
In the country the Guardian has recognised that this must happen if the paper is to survive and recently launched its concept of open journalism. The BBC is also increasingly using what it calls user generated content.
The future of effective journalism will depend on these ideas developing through co-operation between “citizen journalists” and mainstream media.
I was encouraged last night by the enthusiasm, at a Debenham Arts Festival meeting, for the idea of wider community involvement in the creation of of content for the festival website.
In the run-up period people who are participating in the festival are being encouraged to write, upload pictures and embed videos related to themselves and what they will be doing at the festival.
And during the four days of the festival we are planning to have a team covering the events, making videos and writing reviews.
The festival is very much a community event, reflecting local talent and skills. We want as many people as possible to be involved and opening up the website in this way will enable people to be more closely involved.
You could call it a citizen journalism project, but that sounds a little pretentious. Certainly it is widening the access to a tiny bit of the media. And it will give me a better idea of how a longer running news site could work.
The Joomla contents management system has been designed to facilitate participation with front-end submission of stories and editing, again from the front end, by volunteers. The site is live but still under construction and will develop as we discover how people want to use it.
My hope is that it will demonstrate that there is a real appetite for community involvement in providing the news as well as reading it.
Looking at other festival websites I see that most are very much based on the print tradition of from the few to the many. In Debenham we have a strong tradition of community events and I hope the festival website with help build on that.