Lessons from Beat Blogging - by on Wednesday, March 11, 2009 15:51 - 0 Comments

Ortiz’s beatblog pushes Schwarzenegger to make policy change

Jon Ortiz’s beatblog, The State Worker, and his users helped force Gov. Schwarzenegger’s hand in making a furlough policy change.

State workers in California have to take two furlough days each month as part of an effort to save money. The governor’s office occilated between two different furlough policies and was unable to come to a decision. One policy had two Fridays of every month being furlough days, which would have forced the closing of state agencies on those days.

The other policy was self-directed furloughs that gave individual departments leeway over when to have furloughs. The lack of a concrete plan caused Ortiz to write a column that said the whole situation was a mess and that state workers deserved better:

The state’s furlough message has switched from shutting down again on March 20 to going with “self-directed” furloughs after Friday that would let state workers pick their days off with management’s OK. Offices could stay open under the second plan.

So which is it?

The shifting messages have ticked off state workers already dealing with a 10 percent furlough pay cut.

“But they don’t care about our lives or about the work we do,” state worker Stacy Garrett said in an e-mail.

The furlough message mess makes it hard to argue otherwise.

The same day the column was published, the governor’s office finally settled the furlough situation, after being prodded by The State Worker beatblog and its users. The really cool part of this story is how Ortiz’s users helped him to cover this situation. They fed him copies of departmental memos that had conflicting information and they pointed him to other discrepancies that were coming out of the governor’s office.

Ortiz took this information and fact checked it to make sure it was accurate. He said he had “hundreds of agents” helping him uncover information. Ortiz is able to get this kind of help because his beatblog is surrounded by a network of knowledgeable users, many of which work for the state of California.

“I had this network of user reporters, pointing out to me things I would have never known had they not be feeding me information,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said the ability of his users to give him concrete examples of how the governor’s office was sending mixed signals about the furlough policy changed the quality of his reporting.

“You can tell people things or you can show people thing,” he said. “The users were allowing me to show very concrete examples of how this was out of control.”

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BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.