A three-day story in my hometown newspaper over the weekend reminded me of how rapidly the new media ecosystem has evolved – and how popular and vibrant some sectors of it are despite all the doom and gloom surrounding Big Media in general and newspapers in particular.
The story concerned retired electrician and Twitter aficionado, Frank Kelly, 54, whose @Brockton24_7 feed went silent because he spilled water on his keyboard and couldn’t afford a repair or replacement.
So, who misses one Twitter user in a universe buzzing with them and their chatter? Well, Kelly’s 2,600-plus followers on Twitter for a start. They missed him so much that they immediately began a crowd-funding drive to repair or replace his gear and get his feed going again.
And what exactly is it that Kelly does that his followers consider so essential? Kelly monitors three different police scanners covering the Greater Brockton area and tweets what he hears. He is an old-fashioned scanner buff. But instead of indulging his passion privately or maybe calling a newspaper now and then with a tip, he uses Twitter to distribute what he hears. He is one of a new breed of volunteer citizen journalists that leap into the breech when Big Media recedes.
To say that his followers appreciate his efforts would be an understatement. According to story in the (Brockton, Mass.) Enterprise, one was fulsome in her praise: “We love the work you do by keeping us informed. You are a true crusader,” said Karen Conneley.
Nice story, even if it didn’t go any further. But it did. Turns out that the crowd-funding campaign was designed by another local citizen journalist, Rob Murano, operator of InBrockton.com, a website devoted to local news and comment and an outlet which, in an earlier time, might have considered what Kelly does competition and let him go dark without a word.
To the contrary, Murano said. “I think he’s providing a vital public service by tweeting breaking news,” he told the Enterprise. “I look at it like online crime fighting.”
The final twist is that all of this would have remained unknown to a wider public had it not been for the Enterprise’s decision to write three stories on the matter. This may not seem remarkable – and especially not over a slow Columbus Day weekend when, even in these print-challenged days, news is scant and space abundant.
In an earlier era, the Enterprise might have looked at both Kelly and Murano as competition for its customers and quashed any story about Kelly’s travails. Instead, the paper picked up the thread and wrote not one, but three stories about it. It even praised Kelly, saying of him “such scanner watchers are an important resource for media organizations. From the sound of that it seemed clear that @enterprisenews was among Kelly’s followers
Consider how Brockton’s news ecosystem has changed in less than a decade. In 2003, neither Murano’s nor Kelly’s citizen journalism operation even would have existed. And had they, you can best believe that the Enterprise wouldn’t have written a word about either of them unless they somehow found their way into the police blotter.
But now, as in a genuine ecosystem, each has a role to play. Murano looks at Kelly, sees the value in what he does and knows he can’t do that himself. The Enterprise looks at them both, sees the value in what they do, and knows it can’t possibly do what either of them do. And thus, there’s peaceful coexistence – and maybe even mutual dependence, in the valley of news in Brockton. The lion lays down with the lamb.
And what’s the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey — speaking of old media types — might once have asked? Kelly’s @Brockton24_7 is back up and running on temporary gear. And he’s well on his way to a new computer, thanks to the Enterprise, Murano, a host of grateful followers and the new media ecosystem.