Lipsher: Facebook journalism
The name on the e-mail address didnt immediately ring a bell, but the message did: Remember when you lit that fence on fire?Its been 25 years since Id even thought of John Logan, Jr., my long-lost boyhood chum, and now here he was, out of the blue, reminding me of an incident that I have tried to forget and prompting me to wonder if the statute of limitations on childhood stupidity ever runs out.Jackie, as he was known then, had tracked me down through Facebook, the ubiquitous social networking website that I had long known about but only recently joined at the behest of a colleague.Within days, I was hearing from Little League teammates, misplaced former co-workers and high-school cheerleaders who wouldnt give me the time of day back then, but who now divorced and several dress sizes bigger suddenly are remembering me fondly.The link to one old acquaintance invariably would lead to a spider web of others, as established friends are allowed to raid each others contact lists.All of this has created an exponentially growing network of people who now are musing about Jackies very public ribbing on my wall where he wondered if my other testicle ever dropped.I never would have thought that I could actually count 170 people as friends, as I do now, and thats not including a few requests from others whom I dont remember or whom Im choosing to deny. (And then theres my brother, whose request for friendship Im ignoring simply because I think its riotously funny.)The trip down memory lane has been eye-opening and amusing: With some, a brief exchange of where are you now messages died off quickly. But others have inspired ongoing conversations, rolling Scrabble games and even phone calls and threats to come visit.Facebook, for the uninitiated, also allow its members to post brief little snippets of what theyre doing right now, broadcasting the message to the whole network of friends. Its an easy way to keep tabs on whos going skiing this morning or where everyone is gathering after work on Friday. My neighbors and I joke that we use Facebook now to hold our over the fence conversations.I find myself checking in pretty much every morning and evening with the same anticipation that I used to reserve for the latest news, back when this Internet thing was just getting rolling.In many respects, these are the events and characters that we really care about far more than, say, the doings of elected officials in Washington or the criminal activities of street thugs in some generic suburb on the Front Range.Facebook can teach those of us in the newspaper industry a lot as we struggle to remain relevant to readers. It seems to me that we should keep in mind a variation on Tip ONeills adage that all politics are local and recognize that readers care most about the issues in their own back yards and those that involve people they know.One of the reasons, in fact, that that I left a big-city newspaper to come to the Summit Daily News was the compelling sense that small-town newspapers offer an intimacy with readers that is not maintained at major metropolitan dailies.It seems instead that many of those papers have retreated to their comfort zones of covering process stories and remote, disconnected crimes and lots of other stuff that no one reads or remembers. It becomes nothing more than background chatter.Coupled with the fact that most readers already have seen the previous days news by the time the daily newspaper hits the front porch, and its plain to see why circulation figures continue to plummet. (Theirs, not ours. Since were fortunate to be the communitys predominant source of local news and our cost-free model presents no barriers to picking up the paper, our circulation has not suffered.)It tickles all of us here that readers have plastered their refrigerators with photos of their kids that have appeared in the pages of the Daily and that businesses display their Best of Summit certificates proudly; its one way that we gain affirmation that what were doing has importance in our community.Call it the Facebook phenomenon.Steve Lipsher can be reached at (970) 668-4621 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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