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How the Trayvon Martin Story is Changing News — And You

by John on 03/25/2012

We don’t know all the facts in this horrible story of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. So, this is post is not about guilt or innocence. We’ll wait for the full investigation.

But this story could signify another major change in the news business – and your role as a citizen journalist.

Think about these themes.

First, the mainstream news media – print and electronic — took more than a week after Trayvon was killed to cover the story.

Second, the mainstream media only covered it because of the power of social media. Trayvon’s family appeared to drive the story through the internet.

Third, we may have seen a trend changer where social media is now driving the news media, not the other way.

Why did this happen? Two reasons: racism; and the decline of the old media.

The media is not outwardly racist. It’s something unconscious. It’s also a reflection of our society. The report of a 17-year-old African American being shot is not earth-shattering news to the media. Trayvon’s death was treated like a car accident: just the facts; no context.

I’ve seen it before. Let me give you two other incidents.

Remember the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. It was national news. But there were other little girls missing at the same time who had no publicity. Why? These other little girls were African American and not blue-eyed blonds like Elizabeth. I work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and they work hard to make sure every child – no matter what the child’s background – is searched for.

Here’s another incident. I will leave out the names of the tabloid TV show and the reporter who told me the story. A mother wants her husband killed. She hires her daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend who commits the murder. Eventually police uncover the plot. The reporter who told me the story had an inside track on interviews involving the characters of this sordid tale. When he finishes the segment, he shows it to his bosses at the tabloid show. The Executive Producer sees only 15 seconds and stops the tape. “You didn’t tell me the family was black,” he told the reporter. The message was clear: America expects black people to commit murder; that’s not news.

Let’s look at the second reason – the decline of the old line media and how it relates to the Trayvon murder.

Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon was killed, is only 25 miles from Orlando. You would think the Orlando Sentinel newspaper would have been all over this story. But the newspaper has had numerous layoffs over the past four years.

However, the Orlando Sentinel is like most news organizations. Some reports say a newspaper apocalypse is coming. As a result, there are fewer reporters to cover more stories. What usually happens is that reporters tend to be more fact-takers rather than journalists who analyze and give readers context.

A friend from Las Vegas who recently wrote a book was interviewed by one of the local TV news stations. The friend called me after the interview. He was shocked. “The reporter came in and asked me, ‘What do I ask you’”, he told me. Where was the journalism, he asked me. I told him to not take it out on the reporter. This young reporter was probably working in a lean newsroom and he probably had four or five more stories to gather before that newscast.

So should this be a concern to us?

No. This is creative destruction of the news business. The story was covered; it took a while, but it was covered.

More importantly, it shows the need for citizen journalists or for the everyday person to act like journalists.

And despite the use of the internet by bigots and special interests, the web is also proving to be a market place of ideas where many perspectives are aired and seen by millions.

Some disclosure here: I am working on a new business model that will use the new media, the new video and video editing technology, and some new video distribution technology that will create a hybrid site that could wipe out the local news media as we know it – bringing the everyday person into the business more than ever. So stay tuned here.

Give me your thoughts on what trends you see – and how you see yourself involved.


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