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Major news events well served by both old and new media

Friday, March 21, 2008 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:43 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last week, you might have missed the special report on local ballot issues. It’s worth a second look.

MU graduate student Beth Androuais created a way to view information about candidates and issues you’ll see on the April ballot in a way that is both accessible and easy to read. It puts the stuff you’ll vote on in the context of the government that serves (or should serve) you.

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The ballot report includes a property tax calculator to find out how much more you would pay if the school levy passes; current school board and council members; candidate Q ‘n’ A’s and links to stories; and more.

I was impressed. Using the tools of the digital age, Beth provided an incredible amount of information, one click at a time. I asked her to explain:

“The premise behind the big project for this year’s municipal election was this: Show readers where candidates would ‘fit’ in government once elected. This, in turn, extended into showing how government is organized, to help understand what they are in charge of. That turned into an elaborate flowchart. It’s not a comprehensive view of government in Columbia and Boone County; I only got photos of candidates and people in electable positions. The goal was to give context to the positions on the ballot.”

“In addition, we continued doing videos of the personal side of candidates. We did this for last year’s municipal election, and I liked it enough to continue it. We didn’t have enough students to do a video of every candidate running for April 8 races, so we decided to do videos for candidates for the First Ward and Columbia School Board races.

“I’m also adding pieces of audio for readers to hear what candidates in the four city and county races have to say about issues — this is audio recorded at voters’ forums.

“My hope is if readers understand more about where the candidates would fit in the large spectrum of government once elected, they would be more motivated to vote if they do not regularly vote, and to give those frequent voters a bigger understanding of what they’re voting for.”

I love it when journalists take on tall tasks like that. Check it out at http://www.columbiamissourian.com/election/april2008/

And then there are low-tech answers.

Last week, Friday morning closed with a tragic event at a home on McNab Drive: the horrible explosion, the attempts to rescue a husband and wife, the terrible news of shock and loss.

Before the day was out, dozens of reporters, photographers and editors were involved in getting the news out. There wasn’t a word of the explosion in the Weekend Missourian print edition Saturday morning.

The Weekend Missourian is printed early Friday. The situation is one part a quirk of press capacity on Fridays and one part a desire to provide an edition that relies on depth and context over news of the moment. Still, it smarts when the print edition can’t acknowledge such an important moment.

Assigning editor Liz Heitzman’s solution was to print 500 copies of a newsletter and pass it around the neighborhood.

“While our online readers were getting an evolving picture of the day’s events, it concerned me that our print readers weren’t,” Liz said. “The analogy isn’t nearly oranges to oranges, but I found myself thinking of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. The staff managed to publish every day during the flood of 1997 even though its offices were swamped and unusable.

“If they could find a work-around to such a situation, surely we could find a work-around to our news cycle hiccup.”

The one-page newsletter didn’t have a cupful of the bucket of news produced online. There was more news generated on ColumbiaMissourian.com in two hours than might have been produced in a day just a few years ago. Still, news reached neighbors regardless of their digital prowess.

Tom


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Comments

John Schultz March 23, 2008 | 12:58 a.m.

One failure of the "new media" is that the text in the April ballot issues story was not selectable (I presume it was really an image), which made it impossible to use the presented information without retyping the facts from the online feature.

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