Medill News Service reporter Donesha Aldridge couldn’t make a Lincoln Park Redistricting Meeting but still wanted to write about it, so she turned to the Everyblock Chicago online community for help. “I need a few residents’ perspective of how the meeting went for my story,” she wrote.
The you-know-what quickly hit the fan!
“Bob from Lincoln Park” and others went after the Medill grad student for her post. “Please excuse me if I question the professionalism of your journalism,” he wrote. “Why were you not there?”
“Donesha made herself a target by openly admitting she was not at the hearing. …The bottom line is that [the] reporter did not do a good job of soliciting comments. I read her request and it could easily be interpreted to be a request for help from someone who was not interested in attending the hearing.”
“Whoa! I just saw this thread. In the words of SNL’s Cheri Oteri, “Simmer down now!!” : )”
Medill professor Marcel Pacatte joined the fracas and defended his student. He told Bob in Lincoln Park:
“Spare me your conclusion-jumping and condescension. It’s quite frankly none of your business why she wasn’t there — she answers to me, her editor, not to you. If you care so passionately about this important issue, maybe it would behoove you to help her tell the story rather than be so inappropriately critical of her in a public forum. The only good journalism lesson that comes from your post is proving to my students how ridiculous and prickly some people can be.”
I asked the professor about using Everyblock to get information about the meeting, and what he thought about the heated discussion over his reporter’s post:
This is certainly not the first time reporters at Medill have attempted the use the Internet as a way to reach sources. I’d be embarrassed if it were. The Internet exists and it thrives as a place where people communicate and interact and find and receive information.
Everyblock is almost immaterial to it, other than it is a place where people of a community can reliably exchange information and interact.
Same goes for email. People use it as a means to communicate. So should reporters. To expect them to do otherwise is patently absurd.
The unasked question, unless you’re someone like Bob in Lincoln park, is whether electronic gathering of information is the primary means or the only means or the best, safest, most reliable means of reporting. That answer, of course, is a resounding no. But it’s a valid tool, as sure as walking into a room filled with informed, active people would be.
The only thing I’ll encourage reporters in my newsroom — my students — to do is understand that the Internet, like life, is filled with agendaed, unreasonable, bullying jerks like Bob in Lincoln Park, and to be mindful of that.
I also emailed reporter Aldridge for comment, but Pacatte told me: “I’ve asked Donesha not to comment — on the thread or anywhere. I’m the one who picked this fight, even though it was her post, and I’m the one with the responsibility, so I prefer to be the talker on this.”