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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of radio stations.

Information Proliferation...Or How I Stopped Worrying, And Learned To Love The Hashtag

News is a buffet now. Think of all the choices we have… a huge variety of flavors and items—in words, in sounds, in pictures, in video…

When many of us were growing up, the choices were severely limited. Instead of a buffet, it was more like lunch in a school cafeteria: only available at certain times of day, and you had to make do with whatever the server plopped onto your plate. Mystery meat, anyone?

Cable TV news and the Internet changed that. Now news is available when you’re ready for it; no waiting for the next news broadcast on radio or TV or the next delivery of a newspaper.

You have more choices, and the people and organizations that want to convey information to you have many choices as well.

For that matter, you don’t even need to get the information from a news organization anymore. Remember listening to the radio when you were a kid, to find out if the snow cancelled school that day? Parents today just go to the school district’s web page to see if it’s a snow day.

This revolution certainly made information more democratic… if you want it, and somebody’s got it, you just go and get it. But it also adds some complexity to our search for information, and when I say OUR, I mean yours as a news consumer, and ours as a news organization.

This became clear to me while we were covering the summer fires. We had to pull in a lot of information for radio and the web from a lot of sources at the peak of the July/August lightning fires. Once upon a time, we would have made phone calls to get updates. Now we can pluck the information from the web, principally from the Oregon Department of Forestry and Cal Fire sites.

You can, too. But which site? Oregon Department of Forestry and Cal Fire both have their own “standard” web pages. But they also have Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and Blogspot entries. I found them on Tumblr, too, but I admit to being on training wheels when it comes to some social media offerings.

To assemble a picture of the Oregon Gulch fire and its effects on residents of Jackson, Klamath, and Siskiyou Counties, we checked with the Southwest Oregon District of the Oregon Department of Forestry at its Blogspot page (www.swofire.com). That gave us the raw fire info. We assembled evacuation information by going to the Facebook page of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. That Facebook page is barely two years old. SWOFire.com is a little more than five.

The point is this: you have more choices, and the people and organizations that want to convey information to you have many choices as well. It’s no accident that members of Congress—who are not entirely trusting of reporters, we hear—were among the first to make widespread use of Twitter, taking their own focused messages to their followers.

And savvy Twitter followers figured out early that they could be inundated by tweets that did not particularly interest them, and that’s why it was a Twitter user—not Twitter the company—who invented the “hashtag” concept. Try it… type #publicradio or #stateofjefferson or any term you like into a search engine, and see what you get.

Eyes crossed yet? Ultimately, we’ve gone beyond a news buffet… we’ve got a whole food court, maybe even a grocery store, available to us, night and day. It’s a challenge for you to figure out which sources you trust enough to come back to again and again.

And a challenge to us in the news biz to earn that trust and stay relevant. We will continue our efforts to apply our skills—research, reporting, interviewing, and more—to provide interpretation and context, to help you make sense of the glut of facts and figures that you now have available to you.

Think of it as JPR News bringing you a tray from the food court. With relish.

Geoffrey Riley began practicing journalism in the State of Jefferson nearly three decades ago, as a reporter and anchor for a Medford TV station. It was about the same time that he began listening to Jefferson Public Radio, and thought he might one day work there. He was right.

Geoffrey Riley is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has hosted the Jefferson Exchange on JPR since 2009. He's been a broadcaster in the Rogue Valley for more than 35 years, working in both television and radio.