I don’t like Facebook.
It’s a waste of time with too much navel gazing and trivia. I don’t care that your dog has learned a new trick.
But when comedian Jonathan Winters died April 11 I did go to YouTube to watch clips of him during his prime. And I have a Facebook page. My editors made me sign up and want me to use it as part of my job.
But I’m reconsidering my antipathy toward social media after spending two days this week in Valley Springs and Rancho Calaveras, two small Calaveras County communities that are about as far from the cutting edge as you can get.
I was there to cover the story of Leila Fowler, a bright, adorable 8-year-old who was murdered in her home by an intruder. As I was in the two towns, which sit next to each, I kept seeing people on their laptops and smartphones in coffee shops and other public places. They were on Facebook learning the latest about the investigation into Leila’s slaying and how they could help.
Many residents were on a Facebook page set up after Leila’s death. As I read their posts, I could feel their concern and sense of community.
They posted asking if anyone had news on the investigation; that sheriff’s deputies had gathered at the Veterans Hall and it looked like the FBI was there, too; that Leila’s family had not been able to get into their home since the murder and they needed clothes, food and gift cards (a later post listed family members’ clothing sizes); and there were posts about where to gather to make memorials for Leila and information on a candlelight vigil for Leila.
These Facebook posters were for the most part ignoring — and in some cases disgusted by — the dozens of out-of-town TV, radio and print reporters who were there to cover the story. At best, we reporters were a secondary resource. I felt obsolete.
But now that I’ve had time to think about it, newspapers are not going away. We can do things that are very difficult for others to do, such as being a government watchdog and holding public officials accountable. As long as newspapers act as a watchdog, they will have a vital role in a community.
Valley Springs and Rancho Calaveras are special places.
More than 1,000 people attended Leila’s memorial. About 9,000 people live in the two towns.
And roughly 100 residents attended two news conferences in which authorities updated the media on the investigation. Residents asked questions and addressed sheriff’s officials by their first names. In nearly 20 years of working for newspapers, I’ve never seen news conferences like these.
My conclusion: I have a grudging new respect for Facebook, especially when it’s used by a caring, cohesive community.