To my ongoing dismay, the Daily News doesn't have a helicopter. Or a cops reporter, or staff photographers. We're a two-year-old, nonprofit, online newspaper with an annual budget of less than $200,000 and an office full of thrift-store desks.
But we do have a network of three dozen citizen journalists spread throughout the city, and some powerful software that enables us to keep track of where they live and what they're interested in covering. That system allowed us to find a citizen journalist who lived near the building collapse and get him to the scene -- within minutes.
Welcome to the new frontier. I've made the point a number of times recently that truly successful online journalism is currently at the point that newspapers were at in the old west: one-person shows, deeply (and sometimes troublesomely) tied into the community. Transitioning an already-established paper to the medium is still difficult (hence all the job hemorrhaging) but a venture like the Daily News can start small and build organically in ways that big news organizations simply can't do.