Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Social media alert pages popping up in rural areas served by weekly newspapers

Rural areas typically only served by a weekly newspaper are seeing an increase in Facebook pages that offer up-to-the-minute local media alerts, Able Allen reports for Mountain Xpress in Asheville. In the past year in rural Western North Carolina, "almost a dozen local alert pages (some with affiliated websites) have cropped up in various rural counties in the region, and some are already attracting followers in numbers comparable to the established print outlets’ circulation figures."

The local shift reflects a national trend, with a Pew Research Center study saying 30 percent of adults say they get their news from Facebook, Allen writes. The difference in rural areas is that the news is localized, mostly concerning traffic, weather, Amber alerts, arrest reports and information about public events and meetings.

Rural North Carolina's rise in localized Facebook news can be attributed to Mitchell County Alerts, created last year by information technology specialist Joe Ferguson, Allen writes. Since its creation, the site has garnered 5,597 followers. That's not bad for a site that covers a county of 15,000.
Ferguson told Allen,“When I first started [Mitchell County Alerts], I didn’t know how the community was going to take it. I did run anonymous for a while, but most people were beginning to figure out that I was doing it anyway . . . With the recession and the way jobs down here in the IT sector are and my inability to find work, I created the page to give myself something to do and keep me from going crazy. I started this as a hobby, and it’s just turned into something that I look at as becoming a job."

Based on the comments on the site, "what people like is its approachability and interactivity," Allen writes. "On June 1, for example, Ferguson posted about a pedestrian struck by a car on N.C. 226. He didn’t provide much information, but someone who claimed to have been at the scene and two self-identified extended family members of the victim left additional details in the comments section." Ferguson told Allen, “Citizens want to be able to know what’s going on in their community when it happens, and they don’t want to have to wait until next Wednesday to read it in the paper—if it shows up in the paper.”

The two local weekly newspapers, The Avery Journal-Times and the Mitchell News-Journal, have little to no online presence and don't view the web pages as a threat, citing unreliable Internet service in the area while calling the sites less credible and reliable than newspapers, Allen writes. But one editor did admit that since Mitchell County Alerts began posting, the Sheriff’s Office has stopped sending complete arrest coverage with photographs, a popular item among readers. (Read more)

No comments: