Archives » January 11th, 2005

January 11, 2005

Are the Schools Closed?

The Internet still seems like a secondary citizen here in Carson City. I went online this morning to check on school closures, since we got another two to three inches of snow last night (on top of the ten we already had). So where would you go for information like that? Well, the Nevada Appeal newspaper is the main news outlet for the town, so that seems like a logical place. Scan the headlines really quick…plow crews working overtime…school board elections…Yucca Mountain funding…nothing. Okay, let’s click on “More Local News.” Going downhill is good for your body…AARP helps fill out tax returns…local artist dies…oh here, halfway down the page it says “What about schools Today?”. It has yesterday’s date. Click on it, and what does it say?

A decision about school closings will be made this morning. Listen to media sources for updated information.

Yeah, thanks. Thanks for taking five minutes of my life just to find that little nugget. You’re the media source I would expect to have updated information, but instead you want me to listen to the radio for half an hour. And all the radio stations are based in Reno, so Carson City is going to get a half-second mention at the tail end of the interminable list of Reno private schools that are closed (and the funniest thing about that list? The “I Can Do Anything Charter School” has been closed for five days. They can do anything except pick up a snow shovel, I guess).

So thanks for that, Nevada Appeal. This is why I give you $7 a month for a subscription?

Okay, so the local newspaper was a bust. Where else to go? Carson City doesn’t have any TV stations, and there’s only one radio station. They don’t give news on their website. So what else? How about the school district site? Not one of the “media sources” I’m supposed to be “listen”ing to, but why not give it a shot? Enter “carson city school district” in Google, find the website, and there it is, finally.

Carson City School District Closed – Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hallelujah!

Why is this so tough? There are thousands of parents waking up in Carson this morning wondering if the schools will be open, wondering if the busses are running or if they’ll have to make some kind of arrangements. Why isn’t there some local website out there willing to step up and actually provide updated information to the people? The newspaper website is pretty useless; all they do is reprint the stories from that day’s fishwrap. The TV news stations in Reno seem to only cover Reno, and most of them have pretty dismal online coverage too. The Reno newspaper last updated their school closure information at 11pm. It is really that hard? Is it that difficult for these places, which have active newsrooms practically all day, to have some intern spend ten minutes putting an alert at the top of their website: “Latest School Closure Information”, and to actually update it when new info comes in? Or is the website just something they have because they feel like they’re obligated to?

All these news outlets really seem like they don’t care about the web. They have websites because everybody else does, and it’s a good place to sell more ads. The Nevada Appeal website actually places a link to “Today’s Ads” above the link to their archives. One of the TV stations in Reno has one headline above the fold on their website. One. And that’s with the browser maximized. This is why everyone online is saying the the mainstream media is dying; there’s a better way to do things now, but they just don’t care. There’s something better than dropping off the news once a day in your driveway, or delivering it in half-hour chunks at 5, 6, and 11. But they don’t care. They’re not willing to change their way of thinking, and we’re the ones paying the price. We’re the ones hurting because of it.

This is why I’ve been following what Dan Gillmor and others have been doing. It’s called citizen’s journalism, or grassroots journalism, and what that means to me is the people are routing around these slow news organizations and giving each other the news. See a fire? See a car crash? Have some insider information on school closures or local governments? Don’t call a reporter, become a reporter. Break the story yourself. Or add your voice to a story that’s already broken. One person can’t do it alone, but if a community bands together and decides to start keeping each other informed, instead of all looking to the same old tired source, a revolution will take place. I’d like to get something like that started in Carson City, but I’m not sure how ready the community is. I’ve been thinking about starting a Carson City-only weblog, and posting the kinds of things that are hard to find in the newspaper: road conditions, school closures, construction updates, things like that. But for it to work I’d have to have a fleet of “reporters” out there, ordinary citizens writing in or submitting stories to the site. Otherwise it’s just one person doing it alone, and it will never get off the ground.

So I want to feel out the online community: does anyone from Carson City or Douglas County even read this site? Would you want to be part of this new movement? Do you have any ideas how to make it work? I sure don’t; I don’t know jack about journalism, except that I’m very unsatisfied with what’s available. And there’s no money in it, at least not at first. But it’s obvious that what we have isn’t working, and it’s time for something new.

And with that, I’ve wasted well over the half hour I would have spent listening to the radio for school closure information. But I don’t have anything to do today anyway. My wife won’t let me drive the baby around in my little car when the roads are like this. So since I’m stuck at home today anyway, I might as well think about how dismal Carson City’s online community is.

Update: After I posted this, someone at the Nevada Appeal woke up and posted a Breaking News alert on how the schools are closed today. Nice work, but a little bit late. They should have been the first ones with the story, not lagging behind. This news needs to be out there at six in the morning when the busses are supposed to come, not at eight when school’s already started.