School board and city hall coverage is flourishing, thanks to citizen journalists
By Nathan Gan
The “accredited media” section of the room sits empty while city councillors and school board trustees perform their duties as public officials. The empty seats represent a decline in the number of civic beat reporters but also makes room for citizen-journalism, something Aaron Leung has recently dove deep into—with live tweets.
Vancouver resident Leung, who according to his website is a self-proclaimed urban policy nerd, has deep roots in municipal politics. He first started as a member of the City of Vancouver Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee and narrowly missed votes to be voted in as a Vancouver School Board member. With nearly 1100 followers on Twitter, he live-tweets many school board meetings while filling in the gaps where news reporters once were.
Leung condenses heavy topics and debates into the 280-character text boxes on twitter staying as neutral and transparent as possible. He said that although meetings can be long and dry he has found passion in the pursuit of live tweeting, which he says is the perfect platform for disseminating information to others who are following along.
“I think it’s a really good way to hold people accountable, especially if you have a platform.”
Civic reporter beats—or beats at all— are becoming more and more rare in the modern news industry. Some however still stand and excel at what they do, namely CBC’s Justin McElroy and Tracy Sherlock who is a freelance columnist. Sherlock writes commentary for the Vancouver Courier. But the potential of these positions being replaced seems slim.
John Kurucz, a Vancouver Courier reporter, believes that while these online citizen-journalists such as Leung are creating a unique and impactful craft, the lack of experience is a cause to be cautious. “When the people that follow [the issues] are really, really passionate about a very specific topic, it’s inevitable that some partisan views will enter into their commentary,” Kurucz said.
Yet according to former Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus Leung’s work is intelligent and informative and doesn’t go unnoticed. “He knows so much about governance; more than most people I know in government.”
The accredited media while they are professional and reliable, could need a hand when it comes to attending long meetings that sometimes yield little results and sometimes no news. Leung’s work as a citizen-journalist could be the ticket to full coverage of stories that need to be heard, or at least could be a way to give reporters a hand during their busy days in the field.