- Saturday, June 6, 2009 was the annual award banquet for the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. It was my first time attending the event that purports to honor the journalistic endeavors of members of the organization who are working journalists covering the San Francisco Peninsula.
The award ceremony proved to be a fascinating snapshot of the state of journalism itself, particularly in and around San Mateo County.
As the lone online writer in the room, or blogger, it was clear that the mainstream press corps has little relationship with the emerging blogosphere and, in fact, maintains a deep antagonism and perhaps anger toward the technology that has damaged traditional news media.
Bloggers were lambasted by speakers decrying the failures and inadequacies of so-called “citizen-journalists” who, according to several speakers, have no understanding of the ethics of journalism and have no credibility.
Certainly there is some validity to this criticism. Many bloggers are anonymous authors who do not so much report news but relish in the art of gossip mongering and report information that may or may not be credibly verifiable or of questionable value in the marketplace of ideas.
However, there are people like myself who sign their real names and attempt to research and document their sources for their articles. Many bloggers are former journalists who have been laid off or forced to retire as the traditional newspaper industry continues to contract. Many author high quality blogs covering local, state and national news and provide perceptive insight that enhances understanding of the continuum of events we call the news.
In San Mateo County, every newspaper has experienced significant cutbacks and employs far fewer reports and editorial staff than in previous years dramatically limiting the ability of these outlets to produce high quality reporting across a broad spectrum of issues.
The San Mateo County Times now employs perhaps two full-time reporters for all of San Mateo County, although the Times does pick up stories from its sister newspapers among the MediaNews Group which owns most of the dailies in the Bay Area. The Daily News recently retreated from much of the Peninsula, covering communities as far north as San Carlos only. Most recently, the massive layoffs at the San Francisco Chronicle have devastated newsgathering on the Peninsula and in San Francisco. The Chronicle closed its Peninsula Bureau years ago and the press office within the county government center is all but empty. The Examiner Newspaper has also retreated from San Mateo County as it now dedicates only one reporter two days a week to covering local news.
Many communities such cities like Daly City have not had local newspaper coverage in years and are largely ignored by every news outlet in the area despite the fact that it is the most populous city in San Mateo County.
Into this void have come the bloggers. In Pacifica, the Pacifica Riptide news site and blog now regularly breaks news stories relevant to that community. In the Mid-Coast and half Moon Bay are, the Coastsider news site and blog has emerged as a major force, perhaps getting more online traffic than even the older and more traditional newspaper the Half Moon Bay Review. In Burlingame, the Burlingame Voice blog has emerged to give voice to local issues. In Woodside, the Citizens of Woodside blog now covers that community or the Watch Dog San Mateo which aggregates and editorializes on local news stories.
To the credit of the Examiner Newspaper, it has created space for local bloggers to do what it can no longer do, and that is cover critical issues relevant to San Mateo County.
So, what is the role of the blogger? In instances such as the "Pay-gate" scandal in Daly City and the Sharp Park controversy in Pacifica, I have been able to break stories which were initially ignored by newspapers in the County. In fact, recently, in my Peninsula Examiner blog I wrote about the nomination of several local officeholders to the California Coastal Commission by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. The story received no attention locally until six days later, the San Mateo County Times published an article on the same issue.
As journalism continues to change, it may be wise for those in the industry to find a way to co-opt new media and take advantage of the technology that is, perhaps, forever altering the process of reporting news.
By embracing and working to improve the activities of so-called citizen journalists, traditional media outlets may learn to survive and thrive. For instance, the Peninsula Press club, as the professional association of local journalists, should create an award category for bloggers or internet-based journalists and perhaps forgo awards for publications such as the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which has no circulation in the county. They might as well give an award to the LA Times or the Honolulu Advertiser.
I think the Peninsula club should go a step further, and not just include them in their award process, but should have at least one internet-based-journalist on their Board of Directors. Let's not forget the blogs such as the Burlingame Voice, the Coastsider, and the Riptide often break news before old-style newspapers.
Since the technology for the revolution in journalism started right here in the Silicon Valley, it is past the time for the Peninsula Press Club to join the electronic era and recognize electronic journalists.
Balshone posted the letter on his PeninsulaExaminer.com blog.