2014-06-12 / Opinions

Your weekly News-Reporter is much more now thanks to the immediate impact of social media

By KIP BURKE
news editor

When is a small- town weekly newspaper no longer just a weekly paper?

It’s not a trick question. Thanks to modern technology, The News-Reporter is reaching our readers with breaking news all day and night, every day of the week, with the things that are important to them right now.

The recent string of tragedies showed how many people we’re reaching through our Facebook page and through our website, News-Reporter.com. The numbers are stunning. When the homicide death of Carlos Wynn happened late on the night of Monday, May 26, more than 2,600 people saw our first report from the scene by daylight the next morning. That’s more than half the adult population of Wilkes County.

Our readers didn’t have to wait until Wednesday or Thursday to get the straight story behind what every¬≠body in Washington was talking about. The news went out directly to some 1,400 Facebook friends, who shared it with many of their friends, who shared it with their friends.

The same t h ing has happened with the murder of James Edwards last week, and the tragic fatal traffic accident last Friday. We hate reporting tragedies like those, but people need to know the facts rather than the gossip, and so we report it all.

Facebook has also been a great way to reach the public with severe weather warnings, especially now during tornado season, when big thunderstorms and high winds can sprout up suddenly and hit without warning. Last year, when we posted a tornado warning, more than 1,600 people saw it very quickly, and passed it on to others. Better yet, with weather radar as sophisticated as it is now, and available on smart phones and computers, even a dreaded tornado warning can be passed for the specific area of ­Wilkes County that is in the path of the possible tornado.

What that means is that now, a “weekly” newspaper can quickly put out information that can actually save lives if folks will act on the warnings.

Now, it’s true, the one form of communication that The News-Reporter can’t outrun is small-town gossip. It’s a form of rapid communication that some folks have developed into a fine art, and now, with people using their smart phones to text, Twitter, and post on Facebook, the dirt can spread at the speed of light, unfortunately.

I say unfortunately because gossip is often a little short on facts and long on imagination. I know, you’re shocked, but the fact is that some gossip just isn’t quite juicy enough, so a little imaginative twist is added in before the gossiper passes it on.

Yes, it happens. Let me give you an example. After chatting with a certain group of coffee-drinking gentlemen at a local restaurant, a lady rushed to the Wilkes County courthouse demanding to vote for the city-county consolidation that “somebody” said was on the ballot right then. Well, there was no such thing on any ballot, and no voting was going on. Gossip with a twist.

Now, that clearly is a case of the time-honored Southern tradition of taking a bare nub of fact and adding a little fantasy to it, then passing it on to a gullible soul just to see what happens. It’s pretty funny sometimes, and often harmless. Most gossip is just as harmless, unless the one gossiping is doing it with ugly motives, to hurt someone, to damage a reputation, or for political reasons.

That’s what we’re trying to overcome with the use of social media. For more than 115 years, The News-Reporter has been trying to get ahead of the rumor mill, and trying to counteract all the lies so willingly told, and only now, with today’s technology, can we really get the facts out there in real time.

But we may never outrun the rumor mill.

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