Friday, July 18, 2008

What is Community Journalism, According to One Area Editor

I've read the entries from the high school students I recently had in class (and I'll have more from them in the coming weeks), but how would you define community journalism? How does your newspaper practice it?

Here is what one respected area journalist and editor told one of my students in an e-mailed interview. Details that would give away the editor's identity or newspaper have been removed.

Q: What does your newspaper do to get readers (and citizens in the community) involved in the news and the events in your community?

A: We print a lot of contributed photos that people bring to us. They include pictures of a youth with the turkey or deer he or she killed, organizations donating money to charity or a student graduating from college. Parents especially like to see their kids' names in the newspaper when their kids accomplish great things. People submit announcements when babies are born, people get married and couples celebrate wedding anniversaries. I once heard community journalism referred to as "scrapbook journalism," meaning people cut articles out of the newspaper to put in their scrapbooks. Another aspect of reader involvement that is rather new is our Web site. There we allow readers to post comments to stories and upload photographs to share with other readers. It provides more interactivity than the print edition.

Q: Does community journalism make your paper better? Does it improve your reporting and/or circulation?

Definitely. We have small editorial staff and we cannot be everywhere at once, especially when we also have to do a lot of the production of the newspaper, including adjusting photographs, laying out pages and updating the Web site. Readers often call us with story ideas, usually about a friend or family member who has done something outstanding. I believe it does help our reporting by giving us ideas of what our readers want to read. As far as circulation, yes I would say it helps there, too, because parents want to keep a copy for their scrapbook and extra copies to send to grandma and grandpa.

Q: What is a strength of your community newspaper?

A: This newspaper has a tradition of excellence. But more important than the awards is that (we have lots of) people purchase each issue. That many people trust us to be a reliable information source.

Q: Does your community newspaper have a weakness?

Our biggest weakness is not having the editorial resources to cover all of our circulation area. We cover the city government and school board where we are headquartered, as well as the county government, thoroughly but but that leaves other city governments and school districts in our circulation area that we do not have the resources to cover as thoroughly. Sports is another area where we are lacking in coverage simply because we do not have the staff to cover all the county schools' sports programs as well as we should.

Q: Is it more important for me as a student to learn how to research and write objective news stories or editorials?

A: News stories. A lot of small-town newspaper editors don't even write editorials. Solid, objective reporting is what will gain the community's trust. Without that, they won't even bother reading your editorials, so it is important to learn reporting first. Editorial writing can come after that.


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