By Don Nelson
In case I don’t say it often enough (and who does?), thank you.
The reader support and positive online commentary about our fire coverage during the past month has been gratifying. We appreciate being appreciated, in part because it validates what we’re doing for the community, and in part because it motivates us to keep improving. Journalists are like that — it doesn’t take much patting on the head to make us feel worthwhile.
As I’ve noted before, last year’s fires forced us to learn some important lessons about how social media can best be used to inform a community with reliable information during a crisis. Early on, we shifted to frequently posting news and information items on our Facebook page because it was the fastest way to get material out to a wide audience, especially when other means were sketchy or not available. The metrics for our “like” and “share” functions told us how many people we were potentially reaching, and what information was most important to them.
For us, Facebook isn’t about cat videos or links to oddball curiosities. It’s an important communications vehicle, in part because we chose to use it that way and our readers responded. When the tragic Twisp River Fire blew up a little more than a month ago, we quickly ramped up our Facebook presence. Again, our criteria were that anything we posted had to be verifiable or attributable to a reliable source. We also will link to other sources we think are credible.
It’s turned into a symbiotic relationship: We’ve trained people to look to our Facebook page as our live daily “newspaper,” and you’ve trained us to keep it current and useful.
Here’s where the “thank you” part comes in: We could not make our coverage as valuable without your help. The community’s input, feedback, commentary and expectations are all part of the process now.
There are a lot of journalism pundits out there who preach the digital communications gospel as if it were the only way to salvation, and lament that rural outposts like this one just don’t get it.
Conversely, I think most of them don’t have a clue about how community journalism at its best really works. We were doing “interactive,” “citizen journalism” and “hyper-local” long before the terms were adopted by bigger news organizations that were trying to figure out a way to survive. “Digital” is just another means of delivery that we have embraced to good effect.
One thing I didn’t expect from all this is that many people have done more than say “thank you.” We got a $20 bill in the mail, along with a card, suggesting we use the money for coffee or beer (we will neither confirm nor deny how it was spent). Another generous couple gave us a gift card for the Twisp River Pub, which I used to take the entire staff to lunch.
And lots of folks have spontaneously contributed to our generator fund, including my sister Kris Harvey and my mom Jean Wilson, who may remember something about me being afraid of the dark when I was growing up. Now we have a generator, which we haven’t had to use yet. The day may come. Did I mention the gasoline fund? Just kidding. We’re good to go.
We’re still learning how to best use the many means of information distribution available to us. We want to be as timely and efficient as possible given our limited resources. Ultimately, however, the goal remains the same for us as it has for more than 112 years: to serve the community as a conduit, connector and collaborator in creating a dependable information source.
We couldn’t do it without our subscribers, advertisers and online fans. Thanks.