The emergence of social media as a valuable and empowering tool appears to be blossoming in West Northumberland, making an important mark on our public debate.
For a number of years, these columns were posted to an archive page for future reference as a public service. And, for many years, former Cobourg councillor and community activist Ben Burd has run the Burd Report, a mixture of commentary, analysis and rants mainly on local news and quirky stories from elsewhere. It has a solid audience and a number of notable people who comment regularly on his postings, creating entertaining and interesting reading.
More recently others have joined the fray. NorthumberlandView is a site dedicated to posting press releases from organizations across the county, giving residents an opportunity to see news distributed in its most unfiltered form. This is news straight from the horse’s mouth. Posted by former radio journalist Chris Pelletier, it serves a unique function by bringing together a lot of useful raw information.
There is also Northumberland Fold, a website and iPhone app, developed by local software programmer Chris Lundie, which collects all the news from mainstream media and bloggers into one neat package for easy reading.
Another serious attempt to create a viable online news source using blogs is Cramahe Now, a site run by local journalist Bob Owen. It covers all the news from the village of Colborne and former Cramahe Township. He has a large following of local residents.
Then, there are number commentary blogs, like Burd’s, who offer analysis, perspective or opinions on local news. These include Wally Keller’s Cobourg of All Things blog and CoPoHoNo, a site where the author is not identified, but offers regular posts about news.
There are a few activist sites, like the Cobourg Beach Society, which provides information strictly about the one issue. It is done by an anonymous group of “long-time taxpaying resident of Cobourg who believe that our beaches are an historic public right of way” that must be protected. There is also the Citizens for Alternative Solutions, who created a blog to help communicate its messages during the battle with Northumberland Hills Hospital last spring.
For a bit of a different perspective, the blog Cobourg Atheist, run by John Draper, gives some very thoughtful commentary on various religious news and issues. In contrast, there is the Thinking Out Loud blog for a strictly Christian point of view, run by Paul Wilkinson.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, only a quick survey. Still, this vibrant online community is a great asset to West Northumberland. And, while some might think it poses a threat to more traditional media, it does not. The Canadian Internet Study, released in 2008, is one of a number of recent reports and studies saying a majority of Internet users consume both online news sources as well as traditional forms, like newspapers, radio and television.
Similar studies found bloggers often depend on mainstream news sources, both traditional and online, for source material. In other words, the bloggers rely on the traditional media to provide the fodder for their commentary. Instead of undermining the mainstream media, a mutually beneficial relationship is created, providing a richer information environment for the public to consume.
Another notable trend is where every day people report the news. Beyond the blogs, Facebook and Twitter are quickly becoming great resources for people to catch news as it happens. Social media is becoming the news ticker of the 21st Century, as people share everything from traffic jams to election results.
As new councils take power over the next month, politicians should be careful not to ignore these growing sources of news. While it may be easy to fluff off what is taking place, it is something that cannot be ignored. And, it means less control over the messages politicians and those who speak for local organizations and institutions use to communicate with the community.
Residents are smart enough to know what to ignore and what is legitimate. And, all this information is good for democracy. We are lucky to have so many dedicated people provide news and information as West Northumberland enters the era of alternative media.