Breaking news from the source, not the newspaper

By Steve Outing

This afternoon at 3:14 p.m., a few minutes after my daughter’s school ended for the day, I received this e-mail alert from the school’s principal:

“Dear Parents:

“An incident occurred today that we wanted to make you aware of. At around 12:45 p.m. the school received notice from BVSD that a threat had been phoned in to the Police Department regarding the King Soopers at Broadway and Table Mesa. BVSD and the Boulder Police Department determined that this was not a serious threat. Nevertheless BVSD asked Summit, Fairview High School and Southern Hills Middle School to go on a heightened alert status as a precaution and we (at Summit) did so for the last couple of hours of the school day. This involved students passing only in the hallway, locking all outside doors and having administrative staff and faculty outside during passing periods and after school to increase our level of supervision. The day ended without incident.

“Please call the school if you have any questions.”

I’m happy to get these kind of alerts from the school, and this one was somewhat timely, though I would have preferred to learn of it earlier since the initial threat was received by the school at 12:45 p.m. (Previous similar instances at my kids’ various schools have seen the e-mail parent alerts come much — often, annoyingly — later.)

The principal’s note made me think that our local newspaper could better serve the community by tapping into information like this and quickly sharing it with the community at large and, in a more in-your-face way, with anyone connected to the schools affected.

When I checked the Boulder Daily Camera website about half an hour after receiving the e-mail, there was nothing about the incident at the King Soopers grocery store or the school lockdowns. I don’t mean to fault the Camera; it sounds like it ended up being not much of a story, and/or they may not have gotten word as quickly as I, as a parent, got it.

But here’s my point: Local newspapers should be plugged in to alternative news and information sources such as alerts coming out of schools. This is how I’d imagine it:

  • News editors ask to be put on parent-communication e-mail lists, so reporters will learn about incidents like the above right away.
  • When an alert like this comes in, post it as “breaking news” on the newspaper website. Today’s school incident might warrant nothing more than a tiny blurb on the homepage, but a more serious incident like a school shooting in progress will get prominent website play plus e-mail and mobile news alerts to subscribers.
  • Ultimately, this sort of information is of most use to those connected to the schools involved: parents and relatives of kids who attend, teachers’ spouses, etc. So here we get into the notion of the “personalized news service,” where registered users of a newspaper website have filled out a profile with information including where their kids go to school. (Explain, of course, that the information is used only to provide personalized news and information.)

This afternoon’s little incident may have been so inconsequential that a news editor wouldn’t deem it worthy of publishing a write-up in the print edition or the website. Even so, it’s significant news to those people in the community associated with the three schools that were locked down. This would be an opportunity to alert just those who care about a small story. (I’d include this in what I call “micro-personal news.”)

Yes, in this case the schools themselves got the word out in a timely enough manner, given the low significance of the threat. A more serious incident — say, a gunman being hunted in the neighborhood near the school — would demand more immediate news alerts, especially to parents. In that case, the newspaper staff most likely will spread the news faster than the school principal will get around to e-mailing parents.

A personalized-news feature that will send me special digital/mobile alerts when they involve an institution that I have an interest is an element I hope we’ll see offered by local newspapers soon.

We are, after all, in the age of instant news.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!