During my Junior year at UC Berkeley, I acted as a reporter for The Daily Californian, the school's student-operated free newspaper, and covered crime, among other things. While on most days, this meant rounding up the occasional assault, alcohol overdose or wallet theft, there were times when sirens would sound, and we would go bounding off to find a dorm fire, a massive student protest or more dramatically, a potential homicide.
One fall night in 1997, I heard the sounds of gunfire, literally blocks away from my home apartment in Southside Berkeley, and flipped on the police scanner (on loan from the paper) to learn what was happening. It turned out that an unknown assailant had gunned down an older couple out walking their dog. The scene was nearby, so I grabbed my notepad and pen and ran toward where I had heard the shots. I arrived to find myself only feet from from the paramedics and the victims, who were laying motionless in the street. I held my ground and remained nearby, even as the police put up the bright yellow caution tape around the scene, with me inside.
Somehow avoiding being kicked out of the yellow tape zone, I interviewed neighbors who had left their homes to investigate, and managed to get quotes that no other papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune, would get, because I put myself in line to get the information.
Afterwards, having surveyed the scene and spoken with the police and witnesses, I was sure I had enough for a story. Hoping I could put the piece together quickly in time for the next morning's paper, I called our editor in chief, Ryan Tate, and finding the paper had already gone to press, offered to post the piece directly to the Daily Cal's online site, that night. But Ryan responded with a statement I probably won't ever forget, "Louis, nobody writes straight to copy." Everybody had to get edited, no matter how hot a story or how good they thought their writing skills. Though Ryan and I didn't always agree about everything, he was absolutely right.
In the blogosphere, this practice has turned on its head. Last night, when I was reading "Naked Conversations", co-authored by Robert Scoble, formerly of Microsoft, and now doing well at PodTech, this issue was brought to the fore, discussing how with blogs, you don't look for edited pieces that have gone through the PR and Marketing engines, but instead for first-person-led conversations that flow freely. Now, everybody writes straight to copy. While for some, they clearly need a good editor, others have flourished, being able to rapidly publish and get the word out.
The world of citizen-led journalism has changed the media, presumably forever. I don't get a newspaper because by the time it's there, it's old. We don't watch the nightly news because the pieces are often too short to get real information, and we don't really need to see a TV reporter live from the scene where something uneventful happened six hours prior. Our news comes from the Internet, from My Yahoo! and from RSS feeds and from blogs. The keywords I want and the sources I am looking for keep me updated all day long. That's due greatly in part to bloggers who write straight to copy - taking you straight to the story from their perspective.