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Curiosity killed the cat, but it might save the news.

February 1, 2010 1 comment

Wednesday afternoon us students in Reinventing the News were given the opportunity to meet Stephanie Miller, the digital media director for CBS Boston Television.

In her time with us she gave a great presentation on a project that she instigated to help social media initiatives for WBZ-TV.  It’s called Declare Your Curiosity, a great program that allows viewers to submit their inquiries and, of course, curiosities, about what’s going on in their neighborhoods, towns, city, anything that they are interested in.  These ‘curiosities’ remain on the blog site  to be viewed and commented on by other users and, potentially, be made into a feature story.  Some users have even gotten TV spots:

But while it might seem that these posts might just be trivial stuff (like which actors have the best Boston accents), there are a lot of important issues being brought up, such as the Times charging for web access and the dangers of texting and driving.  Some of them actually serve to better the communities of curiosity-ers.  In one particular incident that Stephanie brought up in class, a logging truck driver declared a curiosity about drooping power lines in Saugus, one of which pulled his logging seat loose from the truck and put him in danger.  Because of this post, WBZ’s David Wade went and found numerous wires around Massachusetts that failed to be as high as they should be and sparked an awareness of the dangers of these wires.

Is this the way news is going, a community wide news-fest where everyone gets to toss in their 2 cents?  Stephanie thinks so.

She says that as a journalist you now have to make sure that you are appealing to your “brand” of journalism, and her logo appears to be the “do-it-yourself” brand, where her community of patrons are actively engaged in the news.  As she states:

“We’re creating a sense of interest in the community, showing that we care what they are concerned about…ultimately the future of this (news) landscape is going to be on developing this community.”

The thing that struck my interest is the way that the information is handled.  WBZ computer whizzes use a system called COLOSYS (I don’t remember what the acronym was) to manage all the curiosities that arrive at the doorstep, breaking posts down by town, users, even linking similar curiosities to see how many people are interested in a certain topic.

“We want to be with you, we want to be part of your life and we want to be part of your community,” said Stephanie.

WBZ has a pretty good Facebook following too, a decent Twitter following (you can actually find most of the posts on the DYC page on the facebook page as well).  But while it might seem that this type of outlet is catering solely to the plugged in youth, the majority of WBZ’s online tribe are in the 45+ range.  Stephanie actually said herself she would like to see more of the 18-35 age bracket tuning into their service, and is actively finding ways to make this happen.

WBZ Boston is currently the only news station to offer a system such as this, as of now.  But with the rise in similar services such as Current TV, I’m sure that we can look forward to a future where everyone can be their own Ron Burgandy.