Engaging readers, journalists and mudpuppies

Almost three-and-a-half years ago Echo reported the discovery of a stable population of mudpuppies in Ontario’s Sydenham River.

Mudpuppies are one of the more bizarre-looking creatures that inhabit the Great Lakes region. Their fans are as diverse as adult scientists and young kids.

And Echo journalists.

Here’s why: When people come across these giant salamanders they inevitably Google around to find something out about them.

Through the mysteries of Google’s algorithms, they apparently arrive at that old Echo story. Inevitably they post a message on the story along the lines of, “Hey, I saw one of those too.”

Such observations show up erratically in Echo’s section that reports recent comments on all stories. They’re occasional reminders of a story now deeply buried in the Echo archives.

Mudpuppy

But shortly after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy recently brushed the Great Lakes, we noticed three posts in quick succession on that story. Each reported not only that dead mudpuppies had washed ashore with the storm, but that lots of them did.

Echo reporter Jennifer Kalish quickly posted her own comment on that old story: “I would love to interview you or anyone else who has found mudpuppies washed ashore recently. Contact me any time! Thanks so much.”

In short order she received four emails and a phone call from people who found beached mudpuppies in the wake of the storm. Those contacts led to others and eventually to this story that ran Monday.

Jenny’s story is interesting. So is her newsgathering. It is a reminder that nowadays the gathering of news is about engaging readers.

Not fungi. Image: Sue McInally

Here’s another example: Last week our standing Photo Friday section featured a reader-contributed image identified only as fungi on a branch. Several sharp-eyed and knowledgeable readers quickly identified the image as not fungi, but a cluster of aphids that mimic the appearance of fungi.

How cool is that?

It’s hard for any group of journalists to keep an eye on a region that includes 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and parts of eight states and two nations. Credibly tapping the collective knowledge and observations of the people who are part of a news community is an opportunity for journalists.

I think mudpuppies are cool. I hope that the story Jenny wrote isn’t a peek at a threat to their existence.

I also think that the news community we’re building at Echo is cool. And I know that story is a peek at the opportunity for environmental journalism.

Thanks for helping us keep an eye on the region.

One thought on “Engaging readers, journalists and mudpuppies

  1. Dave – thanks to YOU for constructing this information network. We love sound reporting, but it can be hard to find in the “old” media. And there you are with all of the other readers and writers, right in my inbox. Echo is the best…

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