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Steve Knox: Beware the line between news, opinion on community pages

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Steve Knox
March 3, 2014

Flashback! The thud of the daily paper hitting my porch every weekday afternoon and weekend mornings was the sign that I would get my fill of local news and opinion through the pages of The Janesville Gazette. The evolution of digital journalism has changed the daily thud to hourly notifications. Constant updates from news sources in our region fill my Twitter feed with everything I could possibly want to know about southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

There are also a handful of Twitter and Facebook pages dedicated to the area. I have liked or followed these sites to find out additional information. Lately, a few of these sites have actively sought community reporters—citizens reporting on the state of the community. Here is where I disconnect with those pages. I don't think they are looking for reporters to objectively 'report' on the facts. They are looking for anyone who will share an opinion—preferably an opinion closely tied to the owners of the sites. One area they don't want you to have an opinion is on their sponsors since the owners, who actively communicate with their audience, are generally getting cash to administer the advertisers feeds.

This is where I draw the line with digital media. In my opinion regional community pages do a decent job of regurgitating news originally reported by local and regional news outlets. What these pages really do is create an opinion page, call it reporting and want you to visit frequently so those mentioned advertisers are happy. Say what you want about traditional news sources (print, radio and TV) and how they report the news. One thing you receive is a fairly clear line of news versus opinion. I occasionally offer my opinions on this site and this message is clearly labeled as an opinion. I could offer to become a community reporter and this could be mistaken for new reporting.

Will I continue to watch the community pages fill my Twitter feed? Sure. I enjoy some of their opinions. Will I ever confuse those pages with journalism? Not the local opinion FB and Twitter pages I follow. I'll keep my feeds full of traditional sources, including The Gazette, to receive accurate and timely information … and keep the others for entertainment.

What fills your feed?



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