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Columbia Missourian

Michael Jackson's death is a local story

By Tom Warhover
June 26, 2009 | 12:55 p.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

My 14-year-old niece learned of Michael Jackson’s death through her fingers.


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She and her cell phone-loving network of friends traded information and rumor throughout the afternoon on Thursday. Finally, she told me it was confirmed that Jackson was dead.

How did she know? Her friend texted her. (Oh how quickly nouns become verbs these days). How did her friend know? From another friend. How did that friend know? Her dad looked it up on a news site on the Web.

She knows I’m a journalist. But not once did it occur to her to ask Uncle Tom.

I don’t fault her. As best as I can tell, her information throughout the afternoon was timely and, for the most part, accurate.

The phenomenon isn’t new. We’ve been trading news over the phone and over the fence long before there was text and Internet service.

Still, I was impressed with the speed of her news network. I should have paid closer attention to why a group of teenagers would be so intense about a 50-year-old pop star whose last album was released when they were 6.

The Missourian did a good job of scrambling reporters to get comments from people at Peace and Cosmo parks. But the news was underplayed, both in print, which had a picture at the bottom of the front page, and online, which had a run-of-the-mill presence on the home page.

The Missourian is a local paper. It doesn’t pretend to offer comprehensive national and world news, because that’s not what it does best.

But there are times when an international story like this is local, because so many people here have a strong social, cultural or political connection to the event.

I was 7 when “ABC” was a hit. I started to tell my daughter, who is 16, and she started singing the song before I could finish my sentence.

Love him or hate him, Michael Jackson was part of our collective consciousness.

In print, I can simply second guess the next day. The Web is more nimble, which is a beautiful thing for a journalist. By 8:30 Friday morning, news editor Jake Sherlock had added an interactive graph, a link to an all-Jackson radio Web site and more.

Meanwhile, I’m reminded of the power of listening – even when it’s only to listen to the clack of a niece’s fingers sliding over her cell phone.