As newspapers throughout the country run into financial problems some question if they will exist in the future.
As a college graduate with a degree in both Communications and Public Policy and Government, I can tell you first-hand that newspapers need to concentrate on not merely reporting on the communities they serve but become saturated in them.
This knowledge is based on several reporting positions I have had and a variety of experiences I have encountered not just in meeting people but taking time to understand the issues, following the paper trail, doing the research, and going the next level.
Five and six hundred words might work with some topics but I believe others deserve a more in-depth look with more interviews with people or simply more references to paperwork proving or not proving something happened.
This more in-depth look requires a reporter to dig deeper, take time to think through a story, and spend more than one sitting on the same story even if that means working on multiple stories at the same time.
It also requires the type of reporting rarely found on CNN or the nightly news that compete to be “first on the scene” but have little to no information.
Sometimes it’s worth waiting a day or two to get the real story and talk to the people involved, and sometimes quite frankly it takes that long to dig up the real story.
Spending more time on a story, if humanly possible, usually is worth it and will pay off in giving a reporter a unique angle or take on a story not found in the competing media outlets.
It is this uniqueness, the in-depth aspect, and the ability to break a story that really helps a reporter stand out from the competition.
I believe small community newspapers offer the type of journalism not found in large city newspapers which attempt to cover a whole area.
They try to be all things to all people and often do not have the personnel or know how of how to do this in a way that covers every community in the thorough way they should be covered.
This is because reporters work in the communities they serve on a full-time basis and usually at smaller newspapers reporters are assigned to one or two communities rather than a larger group of communities.
Residents want to read articles from reporters that do not neatly put towns in different categories but rather focus on their unique qualities.
Cities such as New York City, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis are just as different from each other as small to medium sized towns throughout the country.
Reporters new to a community should first interview the mayor or first selectman and then speak with those serving on the various commissions and to not forget to consult the annual town report which has valuable information.
For students who have worked on their high school or college’s newspapers, these skills can be easily learned especially if the institution has between 5,000 and 10,000 students, a population comparable to a small to medium sized town.
Being a reporter and editor for my school newspaper, I can tell you that while some on the staff did not take the job seriously or wanted to see how far they could go using the first amendment as their protection, there were some on the staff who seriously wanted to create a quality product.
Those who stand out as quality reporters were those not afraid to ask the tough questions and keep asking them until they get the right answers.
And of course those types of people have plenty of curiosity and have a strong desire to share their knowledge with their readers.
I truly believe that today’s reporters don’t go to enough town meetings maybe because they feel that exciting things do not happen there.
The town meetings I am referring to are not just the special meetings where residents can vote but I am also referring to meetings of commissions such as the Board of Selectmen, Planning, Zoning, Wetlands, Zoning Board of Appeals, Police Commission, etc.
It is often helpful for reporters to get copies of agendas from these commissions even though in some towns this is a difficult task especially when dealing with commissions who may release such agendas only 24 hours in advance.
I believe a news reporter’s job is to be a watchdog for a community and to serve that role by reporting on what goes on at meetings.
People live busy lives and often times are unable to go to town meetings because of work or family commitments but they are very interested in how their government operates.
After all, that is where their tax dollars go and they want to see what their hard-earned money is going to.
Covering articles regarding schools, especially changes in programs and events, these are not just something that parents want to read but everyone in the community wants to see the results of these education tax dollars.
I often criticize the articles I read in the newspapers because the beginning of an article should entice readers to read on.
Such a beginning should not be a repeating of past events but rather the latest news.
Reporters would write much better if they remembered the lessons from school regarding the inverted pyramid and the importance of using direct quotes from officials.
While reporters do their best in serving the community, sometimes community members seem to do their best in complaining about the small stuff.
Might I suggest these community members focus on the bigger picture and treat reporters with respect even if they don’t like a story in the paper because it gives credence to an opposing side they don’t agree with.
Reporters who have to deal with difficult customers need to remember that while being respectful is important, I feel defending one’s own work is also important.
If a mistake is made, the reporter should apologize and a retraction is given.
However, if a mistake was not made and it simply is a difference of opinion I do not recommend giving an apology or in anyway rewarding such juvenile behavior.
Too often we award behavior of rude people when we should be punishing it and encouraging people to express their complaints in a constructive but gentle way.
If community members can only do one thing for the reporters covering their towns, I believe it should be giving them support and encouragement.
Such encouragement helps a reporter in all aspects so they can reach the next level in their type of reporting.
Reporting is a skill we all need to work on and can improve upon.
Every day is a learning experience allowing us to gain knowledge about dealing with different types of people and circumstances especially when those we need to interview can be difficult.
Whether you write for your community newspaper or for the New York Times, I challenge all reporters to dig deeper for the story, write more effectively, ask the tough questions, serve the community by understanding their concerns and goals for the future, talking to those who stand out as the opinion leaders who help lead others into the cause they have passion for whether it be for environmental protection or downtown revitalization and above all report the truth no matter how it makes anyone look.