From the Editor

Drescher: How a blogger helped us tell a story

Executive EditorFebruary 26, 2011 

The question to Mayor Charles Meeker came from a woman who lives in East Raleigh's Lockwood neighborhood with her husband and two young children.

She wanted to know about the future of Powell Elementary, the school closest to her home.

Meeker harshly criticized the majority of the Wake school board. He said they were outsiders who didn't share our values and were trying to isolate the affluent from others in separate schools.

Meeker's comments last summer, which prompted weeks of community debate, were reported on the front page of The News & Observer. But they likely would not have received news coverage if it had not been for Mark Turner, president of the East Citizens Advisory Council, one of 18 such groups across Raleigh.

Turner, a tech professional and blogger, uses streaming video to broadcast his meetings online, where they are archived for anyone to see, including reporters.

Turner's efforts show how citizens can help inform a community. His story was told by Fiona Morgan in a report on the availability of information in the Triangle.

Morgan, a former reporter for the Durham-based Independent weekly, is a graduate student at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. She researched and wrote the 57-page report for the New America Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C.

Morgan's report is impressive in its scope. She sought to gauge the number of news providers in the Triangle and tallied more than 100 newspapers, blogs, online media, and radio and TV stations.

For example, there are 25 community newspapers in the Triangle, including nine owned by The News and Observer Publishing Co. (The Cary News, The Chapel Hill News, The Durham News, Eastern Wake News, Garner-Clayton Record, The Herald of Smithfield, Midtown Raleigh News, North Raleigh News and Southwest Wake News.)

Morgan says this abundance of community papers shows that there still is demand for local print news. Yet she wrote, "The consistent production of high-quality, substantive content is the greatest challenge for nonprofit and for-profit ventures alike."

She notes staff cutbacks at traditional news outlets as well as efforts by neighborhood bloggers and online-only news sources. These small online efforts typically are driven by one person and struggle to sustain themselves.

Morgan hopes that citizen groups, such as the one led by Mark Turner, can contribute more information to the public discussion.

"Without really meaning to, this community organization helped reporters do their job," she said of the Meeker comments. "It helped inform the broader public. We need to figure out how to network those sources and organize them and make people conscious of the fact that being sources makes them incredible public servants. ... We have to think about civic duty in terms of information."

She says traditional news outlets, such as The N&O, continue to play an important role. These operations have institutional power and access to assets such as databases and lawyers, Morgan says; that enables them to do public-service watchdog journalism that others typically cannot do.

"Wresting public records from a hostile administration requires persistence and legal firepower," she wrote. "The impact can be extraordinary and provide significant benefits to the public ..."

Read Morgan's report at tinyurl.com/4ksepx9.

In a democracy, the more voices the better. I welcome the rise of bloggers, online-only operations and tech-savvy neighborhood groups. At The N&O, we want to tap into these emerging voices to give you the richest report possible, in print and online.

john.drescher@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4515

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