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Town Square

Residents are the eyes and ears of the newspaper

Original post made by Gina Channell-Allen on Jul 11, 2007

The Internet age has brought us a completely new vocabulary. We know a "blog" is not an amphibian and a "wiki" is not a Hawaiian dance. These words are commonplace now, particularly with the Internet savvy set.

It is this group of people who have created and perpetuated "participatory journalism," also known as "citizen journalism." A Pleasanton Weekly Town Square post from "Paul, a resident of the Pleasanton Meadows neighborhood" is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Paul posted an item last week on an incident in his neighborhood, questioning why the SWAT team was surrounding a house and he and his family were evacuated from their home at 3 a.m.

Journalists have several different ways getting news, such as public meetings, press releases and wire services, but it's impossible to be everywhere and know everything. We rely on residents to be our eyes and ears.

As many times as readers question why journalists cover certain stories they question why a particular item was not published. Reasons range from the media doesn't care or even that the media and/or the police are covering it up. As the gatekeepers of public information--the fourth estate--most journalists take their jobs seriously and really care about educating and informing the readers of issues in their community.

And as far as the media and/or police covering up issues, well, it's really not that mysterious. Sometimes it's like on television and the reporter happens upon a scene or receives a call while the incident is in progress and can rush out the door, notebook in hand. The other 99 out of 100 times, however, we get information about police action from a press release a day or two later and follow it up with a phone call to the police department. Not too exciting.

In the case of the SWAT team and the 3 a.m. evacuation Paul posted his question about, we received a press release that hadn't made it from the fax machine to the reporter's desk before Paul's post. Because he alerted us, we called the police department and got the information.

This is a terrific example of a community member becoming a "citizen journalist." You are encouraged to ask questions via email, a phone call or through Town Square. More than likely, if you question something, many others are doing the same.

Keep the comments coming

I received a few very good comments on last week's column about the issue of anonymity of letters to the editor writers.

Anoop D, a resident of the Sycamore Place neighborhood asked, "What is the media's role/stand? If a source wants to stay anonymous should we respect that?" I agree that sometimes anonymity is important in certain circumstances, especially if there is a possibility of reprisal. And sometimes identification is not even necessary, such as in the case with the Town Square poster Paul mentioned above. We didn't need to know who came to us with the information.

However, when an individual accepts a position as a public servant, his or her views become public. As "Stacey from the Amberwood/Wood Meadows neighborhood" pointed out in a Town Square comment from the column, "Most public servants avoid conflict of interest by resigning their posts to pursue activities as private citizens."

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to gallen@pleasantonweekly.com or comment on PleasantonWeekly.com Town Square.

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