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The future of local news is “civic information,” not “declining legacy systems,” says new report
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June 22, 2011, 10 a.m.

James O’Shea: Chicago News Cooperative is a new “town square”

Editor’s Note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its summer 2011 issue, “Links That Bind Us,” which focuses on the role community plays in journalism. We’re highlighting a few entries that connect with subjects we follow at the Lab, but go read the whole issue. In this piece, James O’Shea comments on his work at the Chicago News Cooperative to “create communities organized around an interest in the news.”

Nieman Reports summer 2011 coverWhen I was a young reporter for The Des Moines Register, an editor sent me to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to follow up on a tip about a cover-up of a local police scandal. The Fort Dodge police, of course, didn’t want a Register reporter snooping around trying to unearth details about trouble in the ranks. In fact, the police had done a good job keeping the scandal under wraps, confining it to rumors swapped over late afternoon long necks at the local saloon.

When hours of attempts to pry loose some details failed, I retreated to a coffee shop to grab a late lunch and considered calling the state desk to report that I would need another day. Then the community spoke to me. “Did you hear about the police scandal?” one man at the lunch counter said to another. His friend replied: “I didn’t see anything in The [Fort Dodge] Messenger this morning. I’ll look at the Register tomorrow. They’ll have it.”

I can still hear the confidence in the man’s voice about the newspaper where I first worked as a daily journalist, and I can still feel my guilt at even thinking about giving up on a story that my readers clearly wanted. The Register called itself “The Newspaper Iowa Depends Upon,” and generations of journalists had delivered on that pledge.

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POSTED     June 22, 2011, 10 a.m.
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