One reason I haven’t posted anything here in a while is because I’ve been working on a series of three long articles for Weber County Forum, about Ogden’s Junction development. This personal blog was never intended as a substitute for WCF, and most of my writing on local politics will continue to go over there.
But I’d like to comment here on how this episode illustrates the tense-yet-fruitful relationship between blogs and the traditional media. In Ogden the situation is extra simple, because the town has only one daily newspaper (the Standard-Examiner) and only one active political blog (Weber County Forum).
This particular story started as a rumor that I heard about a Taxing Entity Committee meeting that was held on June 25. I could have simply passed this rumor on to a reporter at the S-E, but I’ve learned through experience that they follow up on such things less than half the time. So I got a copy of the meeting minutes from the city recorder and forwarded them to blogmeister RudiZink, who broke the story on WCF on July 14.
During the ensuing discussion in the comment thread under that story, I got curious enough to look up some tax information on the county’s web site. That information made me even more curious.
The S-E finally printed its own story on July 19, and by then I was hooked. So I contacted several city and county officials over the next two weeks, asking question after question until I was satisfied with the answers. My three long-winded articles describe what I learned.
Meanwhile, the S-E has chimed in with three articles of its own that complement mine nicely, taking a closer look at the progress toward finally opening the Earnshaw building, the status of the Junction apartment leases, and the city’s continuing hopes to lure a hotel developer.
So how do the roles of the traditional news source (S-E) and the blog (WCF) differ? In this case, the S-E did a much better job of finding and quoting multiple authorities with different perspectives on the issue. On the other hand, WCF focused on hard evidence (meeting minutes and tax records), in-depth analysis (with tables and graphs), and connecting the dots together. The S-E articles were mostly up-beat, with hopeful promises for the future. WCF documented the broken promises of the past.
In many respects these roles were typical. The S-E hardly ever looks at actual documents or does any arithmetic or produces an original graph or even reminds readers of what was said in its own articles a year or two ago. And WCF hardly ever seeks out a diversity of viewpoints.
In one respect, though, this episode wasn’t typical. Usually the S-E will break a news story, and WCF will follow-up with detailed analysis and commentary. In this case WCF is way out ahead, and the S-E is playing catch-up.
No matter what your opinion of the newspaper and the blog, it’s clear that this city needs both.
Update, 20 August 2009: The Standard-Examiner has continued its coverage of the Junction financial situation with an especially sloppy article that is misleading in several ways and omits some key information. My comment under the article points out several of its shortcomings.