When local news is at its best, it delivers coverage no one else on the planet it can. So, it’s important to take it seriously.
A friend revisited with me a story from northeastern Pennsylvania earlier this year that exemplified it wonderfully: a steer gets loose from a pen the night before a high school agricultural fair. For more than two days it runs wild. The local press, highlighted by the Easton Express-Times and then the Morning Call when it got particularly ridiculous, chased the high school teachers — friends of mine — and the students and administrators as they chased the steer.
It made great, fun, well-followed news. If lessons can be made from when news outlets make mistakes, they can certainly be made from their triumphs. And, livestock or not, this was a triumph. Follow the news feed from that magical May week and what seemed to work.
Reports from the Express- Times in chronological order, as they made this their story:
- On Wednesday, a reminder that school children would be able to come to the decades-old Barnyard Days at Phillipsburg High School
- On Thursday, blog updates that first announced the steer was on the run.
- On Thursday, the regional TV news bit off the Express Times for an online blurb.
- On Friday, where the pursuit got heavy, first ran a morning news story updating that the steer was still loose. [“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to chase a cow,” Lopatcong Township police Sgt. Todd Picht said shortly after 9 p.m., more than 18 hours after the bull fled Barnyard Days, the annual two-day agricultural fair held by the Future Farmers of America at Phillipsburg High.]
- Before noon, staffers at the Express-Times found a source to give advice on catching a loose steer.
- An afternoon report on spottings made of the elusive steer.
- On Saturday, the morning, comprehensive news account of the steer’s capture.
- A noontime update with a photo slideshow of the steer’s capture.
- Then, on the following Tuesday, perhaps the most important testament to their coverage. The Express-Times followed up enough to discover the owner of the steer was a freeholder — about as noteworthy as they come in the Slate Valley.
It’s important to note that while it may seem like silly coverage, taking seriously the reporting of news that can entertain, enlighten and inform your readership is vital. In all of its forms, this is a story and the Express-Times owned it, nudging out coverage by the bigger, mightier, though wounded Morning Call.
Tip of the hat, EET.
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