Defining community journalism is tricky in 2016.
Not until a journalism student lands his or her first job in a newsroom the size of the one here — at the Log Cabin Democrat — do they really begin to understand. …
Frankly, as someone who has been in this business and in newsrooms more than half my life, I can say from experience that no one right out of J-School has any kind of realistic idea of mid-level news markets, their values or community expectations.
There are significant limitations in a mid-sized newsroom, namely staff. But the plus side is that a new reporter can literally end up covering anything they want to cover, from crimes to city councils. The drawback is time management. We have a daily newspaper and four reporters. That alone heaps on responsibility and workload. But keep in mind that every day, 365 days a year, the Log Cabin has a completely local front page. Every. Day.
Community journalism is not something you go to school to learn. In fact, most of us who have a passion for this kind of work have folks like Joseph Pulitzer, Tom Wolfe, Hunters S. Thompson, Woodward and Bernstein, Maureen Dowd in mind. … Those are the idols in this industry. Those are the types of journalists of whom nearly all students in this business base professional life goals, whether they admit it or not. We all "think big." We all want to dive into politics and crime and courts and injustice.
Rarely do journalism students dream about covering county fairs, awards banquets and street repairs. But the reality is that is what community journalism looks like most of the time. And it is the best place to start. Faulkner County and the Log Cabin is the best place to start.
What we learn by covering the swine show at the county fair is that there is a lot of money tied up in agriculture in Faulkner County. What we also learn is that many of our county’s elected officials spend a lot of time at the fairgrounds during fair week. By covering a show, we make connections to real people who make real decisions in our community.
A new reporter learns through that experience that an introduction, a conversation and a perspective will lend sources, story ideas and respect from an entire community within the community.
Is there corruption in our community? Yes. Is there intrigue and scandal in our community? Yes.
Does a reporter a year out of journalism school in small town America intuitively uncover a trove of secret emails and field a barrage of tipsters who leave clues in disappearing ink on folded up notes on car windshields? No.
That’s movie-grade journalism. It’s not community journalism.
The Log Cabin is a training ground for young journalists these days and has been for many years. This job is not easy and takes a lot of energy. Four reporters covering the ground they do is impressive.
And don’t let those movie writers fool you. There are no real perks. I mean, you might get the occasional celebrity interview, or meet the governor, or get a free screening to a movie, but really, no private jets.
My goal as the newsroom leader and vice president of audience is to keep our reporters here and grow sources in this community — to grow local news the Log Cabin provides its readers. My goal is to teach this team how to find those emails that are hiding by asking the right people the right questions. My goal is to help them network and source the community in which they live; to connect them to "tipsters" who have been around a long time and can get them to places where those intriguing stories can take off.
But the community has to play along. The community has to help.
The Log Cabin can never be the bastion of local news that readers want without help of the community. Sometimes, as I scroll through my own friends’ private social media pages, I see comments like, "I am disappointed our local paper isn’t covering this …"
Sometimes, we just are not aware of what "this" is. We need the community to reach out and make some connections with our more than willing young staff.
My assistant managing editor and I are working hard to get our reporters out to you, and we want to do better, but we don’t always know where you are. If there is an issue you need addressed, and it is reasonable and legitimate and can be backed up with accessible information from reputable sources, we will certainly get on track to find it.
One thing that you do see in the movies is real — we protect sources. We are not gossips. We are reporters. Fill us in on what we should be covering in our community, and we will help you tell the whole, accurate story and help explain to readers why it matters.
I can be reached anytime through email at Kelly.email@example.com or by phone at 501-505-1213. Give me a call and let’s chat.
Kelly Sublett is the Vice President of Audience for the Log Cabin Democrat.