A growing threat: Competition from the source

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.

Milwaukee's finest

Milwaukee: There’s a new competitor in town

“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.



  1. emilygemmell · · Reply

    Totally agree with last 4 sentences. News still needs to be reported by an impartial third party.

  2. News consumers should see selectively framed information posted directly from the source’s mouth as what it is:

    Unmediated, unbalanced, uninterpreted raw material from a private business or public agency driven by an image-shaping agenda.

    There’s a pre-digital word for that: propaganda.

    There’s value in original-source documents, commentaries and “articles” as a supplement to journalism, but they shouldn’t be mistaken for objective news coverage with an independent perspective. After all, “Bearer of Intelligence” is one of Fred Newton Scott’s 1916 inscriptions,

  3. Journalism will, with no doubt, always be left for the professionals to lead and guide the way news is collected, analyzed and reported. Although citizen journalism is capable of achieving high-caliber reporting, so far nobody has matched the network of relationships and sources that professionals use in their craft. Much citizen journalism stems from a vested interest people have towards a particular person or topic. Apart from the citizen journalists’ lack of ethical, legal and professional training, there is a lack in objectively assessing a story’s factoids and a source’s perspective.

    However, the average citizen for some reason or another, falls short of establishing the relationships and contacts that professionals rely on for a steady stream information sharing. Citizen journalism is fragmented between many different blogs in which any one citizen journalist cannot compensate for the manpower required to provide news coverage into one central news source, such as a newspaper. One could argue that purely the skill of a professional journalist, though unnoticed, far exceeds that of a citizen journalist, and will always be preferred over amateur reporting, even if it comes at a cost to the reader.

    1. Interesting insight, Adam. These aren’t citizen journalists typically, however, these are police departments and sports teams creating their own stories and sites. They have the sources because they work for the same team. Journalists may have the expertise, but they don’t always have the information.

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