News Organizations: We want insights not just people’s opinions

To the Commercial Appeal & other Memphis-area news organizations,

Now is your chance to rise above and help us Shelby County residents better understand some of the momentous choices we are about to make, but it will require moving beyond the traditional reporting and writing of the past to actual analysis & presentation of information.

Us residents of Bartlett, Germantown and Collierville are about to vote on creating new school districts but without having any of the tools required to really understand the impacts of our decisions. And your text-based reporting doesn’t really illustrate or explain what the impacts of the different scenarios really are.

If you and the rest of the news organizations really want to thrive in an interactive world, then it’s time to move beyond just writing and adopt new tools  – like GIS/ computerized mapping, which can give us readers the ability to visually see how different options will impact us.

Depending upon how the new municipal school boundaries are drawn, e.g. if they only include students within the municipality, you will have dramatic fluctuations school populations – either increasing or decreasing – and therefore the potential revenue and staff available at the school.

For example, we love Riverdale Elementary, our neighborhood school, but as far as I can tell the majority of the school kids actually come from the Cordova area outside of Germantown city limits. If a new municipal school district was too be launched then my assumption is all the kids from Cordova would be excluded and attendance   would plummet. Instead of overcrowding, we’d be faced with empty classrooms and firing teachers.

However, these are all guesstimates as I don’t have the tools to easily calculate the different scenarios. Instead, I get to read articles from different stakeholders sharing general opinions but without really getting insight into the cold hard numbers or what new boundary changes will mean to me.

It’s as if I turned on the TV news to find out the details of a dangerous storm heading our way so I could decide whether my family should take shelter in the closet or not – and instead of a meteorologist giving me detailed visual information about the storm track and intensity, reporters with no meteorological training were interviewing various “experts” about the storm.

“Yes, it’s going to be a dangerous storm,” exclaims expert one.

“Well it shouldn’t really be that bad unless you’re in the impacted areas,” explains expert two.

“There you have it, it will be a stormy night,” explains the reporter.

Meanwhile, what people like me, have come to expect is a trained expert using advanced analysis/visualization tools showing us the intensity and storm track so we can make potentially life or death decisions. (For those of you outside of tornado country, check out this clip of the play-by-play analysis of a severe storm to see what I mean.)

Because I have a GIS background, I could potentially conduct the analysis but that’s what I’m looking to you for as I have a full time job and kids. That’s why I subscribe, or don’t, to the Commercial Appeal or turn to other local news sources.

The reality is that if I want to buy a car, house or furniture, I’m going to look on Craig’s List, but when it comes to understanding what’s going on with my city, county and schools I look to news organizations, but you need to provide me the information I want and need in order for me to shell out my hard-earned money for a subscription.

The good news is that the technology has become much cheaper and easier to learn and use – so someone with some curiosity and basic spreadsheet skills can quickly move from just reporting to analysis.

And if you don’t have the skill sets internally, partner with the university or people like me who do. Whatever you do, don’t continue doing what you’ve been doing and expect different results – your business and your community need you  to do better.

Sincerely,

Kevin Mireles

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