It’s no secret that the internet has changed the way in which people, particularly Millennials, consume news.
The days of journalists hunched over typewriters while presses whir in the background have been replaced by the clicking of computer keys and the hum of the office server.
But while the “ink-stained wretches” of lore may no longer be so ink-stained, the internet can provide journalists with feedback quicker and in greater quantity than waiting around for letters to the editor to arrive.
“A huge amount of our data comes from our website,” said Eric Ginsburg, a reporter with the Triad-based weekly Triad City Beat. “People frequently find our articles thanks to Facebook, and most of our comments and feedback come online.”
According to a report from the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Facebook users who get news from the site rose from 47 percent in 2013 to 63 percent in 2015. The increase for Twitter users was from 52 percent to 63 percent.
But it is a two-way street, with news providers gaining perspective on what users want to see through user comments and analysis of views.
“When an article blows up on our site, we take notice and consider why,” Ginsburg said. “It’s a combination of long-term, investigative projects that are pretty hard hitting, food coverage — especially breaking restaurant news — and other cultural touchpoints. We try to pay very close attention to what people are talking about in real life and online and then reflect that in our content.”
Journalists are also finding that smaller is not necessarily lesser. Close contact with users can help to focus coverage on areas of maximum interest.
“The main advantage a freelancer or a reporter for a smaller outlet has is freedom from the machine,” said Chad Nance, editor and reporter for the Camel City Dispatch, an online-only news outlet that covers the city of Winston-Salem. “More latitude comes with the territory and without many of the limitations and convoluted bureaucracy present in working for a ‘mainstream,’ corporately owned publications. It also allows the reporter to function in a more organic way.”
The Dispatch covers Winston-Salem politics, sports, crime and culture, the same beats covered by many small newspapers of the past. But it is only available online, and the smaller economic footprint provided by not having to maintain offices, presses and a fleet of delivery trucks allows Nance to focus on the stories.
“The notion of me being a reporter standing above the fray is replaced by me being the reporter covered with the dirt, sweat and grit of the story,” Nance said. “It also frees me up from many of the constraints placed on journalists and editorial staffs by commercial concerns. While we do survive off of advertising, our focus on nonprofits and local businesses allows us the flexibility to base our coverage on what is best for the community rather than what is best for some corporate entity.”
Triad City Beat is distributed in the cities of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. While the internet makes certain aspects of the job easier, the staff still has to deal with limited resources, according to Ginsburg.
“Oh, it affects us a lot, mainly because we have such a small team and a limited amount of print space,” Ginsburg said. “We only run one article per city per week. If we had more staff we could run more than that online even without expanded print space.”
Still, Triad City Beat manages to focus on what readers want to see.
“I recently wrote about the idea that there aren’t many eligible bachelors here [in the Triad],” Ginsburg said. “That’s in direct response to many people bringing it up in conversation, but nobody ever said, ‘Hey you should write about that.’ Part of being small too is that we have so much room to grow and attract new readers, that we also think about who we’re not reaching yet and what could appeal to them.”
“I would love to be able to devote more resources to local news and covering more subjects, but our size limits that capacity significantly,” Ginsburg said. “Then again, we’re a weekly and don’t have to hit everything like a daily, so we get to choose the stories of the most interest to our readers.”