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.