Baltimore, as seen through the prism of different media
Since the launch of the NewsTrust Baltimore project, we have conducted several news hunts that focus our community's attention on one major theme for a week. Early in May, NewsTrust Baltimore editor Mary Hartney wrote about our plan for a monthlong News Hunt experiment:
We want to take a closer look at various kinds of news sources. We’ll explore the different styles of journalism found in print, on television, over the radio and online. We will also dive deeper into some of the biggest issues that affect Baltimore.
In that spirit, we spent one week focused on each of the main news media in Baltimore: print (newspapers, magazines, and wire services), television (commercial and public TV), radio (both news and talk), and online (blogs, web magazines, etc.). We blogged at the conclusion of each week and highlighted themes in coverage and pointed to recommended stories -- check out the linked blog posts for those summaries and more specific notes.
Over the course of the month, NewsTrust Baltimore editors and community members reviewed 238 stories. Of those, 28 were rated and 27 were determined to be most trusted. These highly regarded stories give us a sample of the city’s preoccupations and a good sense of how different media cover Baltimore’s most pressing issues.
During the month, the community together reviewed 115 newspaper stories, six from magazines, and four from wire services. We also reviewed 24 television reports, 18 radio segments, eight blog posts, and 63 online pieces.
As a comparison point, since the launch of NewsTrust Baltimore on Jan. 31, we reviewed 702 newspaper stories, 49 from magazines, 26 from wire services, 70 from TV, 74 from radio, 64 blog posts and 351 online stories -- 1,351 total stories. (15 stories are categorized as "other.")
Themes in coverage
Throughout May, as we examined the local news scene through different media lenses, we found several recurring themes.
News about crime and violence is a matter of routine in Baltimore. Despite the numbing regularity of such news and the temptations to sensationalize, we have seen consistent efforts to humanize and contextualize crime reporting. Of course, there are straightforward crime-blotter reports, but we also saw many examples of compelling interviews, thorough reporting and judicious commentary.
Racial issues are often just below the surface in Baltimore news stories. However, with some prominent exceptions, these concerns are not usually confronted head-on. Is Baltimore’s racial polarization is so ingrained it is no longer considered newsworthy?
Various news media outlets have taken a special interest in youth and in area schools. From independent bloggers to The Baltimore Sun, we saw many stories exploring education policy and leadership. In addition to some very prominent tragedies, we also saw significant stories about young people who were not perpetrators or victims of crime.
There was a lot of coverage of economic development in the course of the month, but these stories focused mostly on large public-private projects. We did not see an abundance of journalism about poverty or the day-to-day existences of people outside the economic mainstream.
Keep in mind that the four weeks of this news hunt are a sample of coverage, and these topics may be addressed at other times.
Different media, different senses
In our weekly posts during this news hunt, we’ve noted how television’s images and immediacy can inform and stir strong emotion. We’ve reflected on the enduring quality of print media, the ubiquity of radio, and the explosion of local news and commentary online.
Contrary to some conventional thought, we found many television stories that eschewed sensationalism in favor of investigative work and reporting on wider contexts. We also found online news sources pursuing and publishing “old-fashioned” original reporting.
In an increasingly digital media environment, some of these barriers between media categories have blurred, and we have noted innovative use of new media from the city’s oldest news organizations. For example, WBAL Radio has been broadcasting since 1925, but it has enhanced its on-air news reporting with online video, additional audio clips and text-based reports. Additionally,The Baltimore Sun has been publishing more and more news in various online media and social networking platforms.
Though online sources are the most diverse by many measures (e.g., writing style and political ideology), they do not seem to reflect the city’s racial and ethnic diversity. It's hard to say if that is a result of a digital divide in internet access or a failure on our part to find and post stories from more diverse sources.
Media and the NewsTrust platform
Because NewsTrust Baltimore is an online forum for finding and reviewing news stories, we are limited to material that appears on the web. If, for instance, a television station does not produce online clips or transcripts, we cannot post and review its stories. The absence of an RSS feed also diminishes our ability to post and review an organization's stories. These are necessary limitations of our project, but they also points to a missed opportunity for these news outlets and their audiences, as well as for the NewsTrust Baltimore community.
Another factor to keep in mind is our propensity toward text-based news stories. We make a concerted effort to include and feature audio and video sources and stories, but the NewsTrust filter and the questions we ask in our review forms are most effective for evaluating longer-form text.
As some experts have pointed out, a lot of news these days is being produced outside the traditional “article.” At present, we don’t have an easy way to capture and review something like Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton’s informative Twitter feed.
What are we missing?
We’ve tried to be diligent in tracking down and collecting active news sources in Baltimore, but every week we discover new ones in a constantly changing landscape. No doubt we have missed some neighborhood newsletters, personal blogs that venture into commentary, niche media outlets, or brand-new publications. If you know of news sources that we have overlooked, please leave a comment or send us an email at baltimore at newstrust dot net.
One of the primary purposes of NewsTrust Baltimore is to surface and highlight quality journalism -- and we also want to have a conversation about what's not being covered. There are issues, communities and events that simply don’t get the attention they deserve. We welcome your views on what subjects and stories are absent from the Baltimore news ecosystem, and we'll have a focused conversation on current gaps and possible solutions in July.
Your insights are welcome
What are your thoughts? What are the strengths and weakness of Baltimore’s news outlets in various media? Do you have a preferred way of getting your local news? Please share your experiences in the comments section below and rate and review sources on NewsTrust Baltimore. Thanks for your participation!
Photo montage by Fabrice Florin