‘On the Ground News Reports’ Challenges the ‘big boys’ in their 2011 Jamaican Election Coverage (Part 1)

The December 29, 2011 election in Jamaica was a fiercely fought battle. This battle, fought for weeks leading up to the historic day involved much preparation and anxiety; and the results will never be forgotten. The People’s National Party delivered a decisive victory over their closest rival the Jamaica Labour Party, and the result was all over the news. There was great online coverage as each news media battled to best deliver the results. Who would be the fastest? Who would offer the best quality and be the most engaging in doing it? We have a winner: On the Ground News Reports.

I was not in Jamaica for the elections; however when checked the top 3 possible sources for updates, The Gleaner, The Observer and Facebook, I immediately realized that On the Ground News was a big winner this time. I was not alone. The comments on their page were similarly encouraging.

On The Ground News Reports Election 2011 Coverage

One user Michael Johnson  from New York commented “Man this is neat way to go OD.NR. Coolest thing yet… “ ,

Courtney Patterson from Kingston Jamaica remarked “Nice! This is where I am going to watch the JLP and PNP duke it out.”, another said

“Proud of the OGNR team.”, Don Perry, and

Cheryll Messam from the Florida International University stated “The election map is innovative OG.NR! I am encouraged to see the useful options we Jamaican are providing our country via ICT and internet based technology. Thanks!”

The New Face of Media

Make no mistake though. Jamaica’s long-established, home-grown, investor driven (one publicly traded), profit focused, media did a good job of delivering the news online as best as possible. On the Ground News still has a far way to go. The Jamaica Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer, Jamaica’s two largest newspapers (and websites) have traditionally done a great job of delivery local news, quickly, efficiently and accurately. That is what they’re known for. Their twitter accounts are normally updated (at least during the times of major national events), and they normally put special effort into creating separate features for national events like the elections.

Jamaica Observer Election 2011 Coverage

New independent media sources however challenge the long established face of journalism. They create benefits for the consumers of the news and for the organizations that deliver the news. For the users, they have another competitor competing to provide the information at the time they need it and aiming to deliver the best quality as quickly as possible. It also ensures that the traditional media sources do not remain complacent ceding their position to new media because of lack of innovation.

On the ground news reports, an independently owned news source describes themselves as “… the fastest and most accurate citizen’s journalism service.” Being 7 months old, as at December 29, 2011 this news source had 75,004 Facebook fans, was steadily on pace to 100,000 and had clearly outpaced their traditional rivals in terms of reach. Jamaica’s two largest newspapers The Jamaica Gleaner as at the same date had 13,325 Facebook fans and 26,264 twitter followers while the Jamaica Observer had 1,003 Facebook fans and 26,395 twitter followers. It is clear, On The Ground News Reports has become a quick and reliable source of news in Jamaica, about Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Accessibility, Speed and Interaction

News is synonymous with information and it is one of the worst possible things to be unable to find information when you need it most. What do people want to know most when it comes to voting? The candidates. And what do you want to know most on election day after voting? The results. I doubt overly anxious tremendously busy people want to wade through clicking dropdowns and boxes to find the results per constituency.

Jamaica Gleaner Election 2011 Coverage

Navigating The Jamaica Gleaner’s Election website was difficult. I could not find the results per constituency to show my father. (Of course, I am realizing now that I am writing this, that digging deep enough you would be able to get a summary of the results). The Jamaica Observer’s election coverage was far superior, and it is still being updated. Their map was neat and the results were easy to find. On the Ground News Reports however (for their first election) went beyond the norm to create a separate hub for their election coverage.

Their Facebook hub is normally where the action takes place, but this time they thought different. It’s a part of their strategy which I will explain later in part 2 of this article. While their site may not have been the most comprehensive in terms of content, and providing access to historical information (if you need to go back), their speed of providing updates, and their number one asset, what I would call their secret sauce, engagement is what puts them ahead. At the end of the day, people needed the election results. That is what they provided, as soon as they had it. However the extra engagement that came from those 82 comments shared by others, the various persons liking and sharing the page, and the online chatting helped to generate a live audience that did a lot for the news agency.

As we face the inauguration of Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s first female elected Prime Minister tomorrow January 5, 2012 competition is even more rampant. National events garnering widespread focus and attention are highpoints in media coverage and great opportunities to increase engagement and interaction. The big boys will be trying diligently (and their arsenal includes their blackberry apps as well as the breaking news sections on their websites), however it will not be without a fight. How are they being impacted by the challenge placed by new independent unregulated stealth media On the Ground News Reports? Are you concerned as a shareholder/investor in media? Does it affect the online engagement and interaction of The Gleaner and The Observer and other online news sources? How will they respond? How should they?

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