I’ve been following a local story about police shooting a couple of suspects when they surprised them in a car suspected of involvement in some robberies. Neighbors were angry at the cops, and broke out windows in several police cars. Big story, still under investigation. Too early to know exactly what happened. Many details yet to be made clear.
I tracked the story on Twitter, where I follow a local TV station and two newspapers. But I wasn’t able to put the timeline together until late in the day when I read a full account, posted on the TV station’s Web site. Aside from the fact that 140 character bursts aren’t much good when you’re trying to take a comprehensive view of multi-dimensional stories, it was also striking that this story, a crime story that took place in a rough neighborhood, and that featured the kind of violence that might affect people’s real lives, was not chronicled by on-site observers. No hashtags popped up. No grainy cell phone video appeared on uStream or blip.tv. In short, the Twitterati, so capable when it comes to covering movie openings, tech conferences and even the occasional airline delay, was utterly silent.
The next time you’re tempted to dance on the graves of newspapers, or even television stations with local news operations, ask yourself whether the work of your police department and those with whom they interact is newsworthy. And if it is, which iPhone-toting Twitterers will turn covering the police beat into a volunteer project or a business model.
Oh, and just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that social media geeks need to cover the police beat. That might not be the highest and best use of their skills. Rather, I’m saying that the police beat, along with a whole lot of other unsexy but essential beats, are best covered by professional journalists who don’t use words like “long tail” and “niche marketing”. We need them.