If the web has ushered in an era of transparency, the Milwaukee Police Department would have you believe it is taking full advantage.
The result is an example of one of the biggest, fastest-growing and least-discussed threats to traditional newsrooms and their digital transformations. Those who used to be news sources are increasingly creating their own ‘news’ websites.
“The Source,” a Milwaukee police website launched this month, supposedly will give citizens and reporters the same crime and public safetly information at the same time. It replaces daily briefings the department used to hold with reporters, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
“The Source provides the whole story – the one that television, radio and newspapers don’t have space or time to provide their audiences,” the department said in a May 7 news release (via JimRomenesko.com) .
Because it is a public institution, Milwaukee represents one of the most audacious examples of competition from the source.
Those who work in newsroom Sports departments already see infringement by professional sports franchises and university teams. They control the flow of information, access to key players, their own reporters and have ‘news’ sites on which to post the latest information. In other words, they have some significant built-in advantages.
“The Source” is publishing press releases, surveillance videos and other helpful information. Whether it ends up being a convenient way to hide behind press releases, with limits on access to officials, will be something the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel will be watching.
“They want to control the news – but they can’t,” said Journal-Sentinel Editor Martin Kaiser in a May 2 story. “We’ll continue to follow the truth wherever it takes us.”
News outlets can still get information by many traditional means, through source-building, anonymous informants, citizens and public records.
The real issue these sites raise for 21st century news outlets is how much of the traditional news audience will they take away? How many readers will decide that free immediate information directly from the source is of higher value than that which comes somewhat later from a traditional newsroom? Who will they trust?
And in an era in which every dime counts, how many advertising dollars might follow those readers?
In the face of these threats, some answers for newsrooms seem clear. Tenaciously guard your credibility. Continue to fight for equal access. Be trusted.