Media wars are good for the news

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday morning on the mounting criticism over St. Pete’s curbside recycling program. In an article by Times staff writer Charlie Frago, he reported on emails sent to council members and city staff lamenting problems with the city’s plan.

My knee-jerk reaction in seeing the story was something like, “geez Frago, I reported that five days ago!”

We listed the same problems and the same reasons for some of those problems. For the most part our stories, published five days apart, gave the same information and portrayed the same message.

We even used some of the same quotes from those emails.

And then I got to thinking, “who cares?” With that came an aha-moment.

In the media, where jobs are becoming scarce and many traditional news outlets are having a harder and harder time paying the bills, things get heated. It’s the Times vs. the Trib vs. the blogs.

We reporters try our hardest to “scoop” all the other outlets. When we do it’s a short, but sweet victory. For all the times I’ve written, “the Tampa Bay Times reports,” I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same written about SaintPetersblog in reference to something I’ve reported.

Once, I wrote a story no one else had. It was picked up by a local TV affiliate and re-reported. The reporter on that story even called me asking about my sources trying to get in touch with them. I helped because it was a story deserving of attention.

Did I get even a half sentence of attribution? No.

That bothered me. And while Frago’s latest on curbside recycling reported much of what I had already reported, it’s clear he drew the same information independently. Thus, no attribution needed. But it still stung a little.

As a growing blog, we still struggle to be taken seriously at times. When I tell someone I’m a reporter, their first question is usually, “do you work for the Times?”

But in evaluating that frustration, I realized I don’t actually care anymore.

I’m glad Frago reported the problems with St. Pete’s upcoming recycling program. Sure, some of the things he reported were the same as what I did last week, but there was also new information. There were new sources. It added to what I had already done.

Often, I add to what the Times has done. Or the Trib. Or the Tampa Bay Business Journal. You get the point.

SaintPetersblog executive editor Peter Schorsch wrote Wednesday a personal tale about his endeavors and goals with a growing cache of blogs. In it he mentioned a dueling morning email blast by Politico reporter Marc Caputo that’s similar in many ways to his own “Sunburn.”

Schorsch wrote he hopes people read both.

Different writers highlight different points. They use different sources and they reach different audiences. While some competition is necessary, it’s good to find the value in those with whom we compete.

And behind the scenes it is that way. Reporters ask each other during long meetings, “what was that guys’ name?” or “did you catch the spelling?” As a radio reporter I often held microphones for TV reporters during gaggles because the circle was too crowded. We keep each other company and tell jokes during down time. There is a refreshing professional comradery that exists between reporters few outside the business understand.

I even owe Charlie Frago a beer.

While there will always be competition and I’ll always get a sort of short-term high from scooping the Times or the Tribune, we all serve the same purpose. As Fox News has demonstrated, it’s dangerous when citizens rely on a sole news source for their daily information.

I hope those who read my blogs also read similar coverage in the Tampa Bay Times or the Tampa Tribune. I hope they compare the coverage and even see what the TV people have to say in five-second sound bytes.

We’re in the news business. The more people consume news, the more that business thrives. And that’s good for all of us.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.