“Small-town girl” reflections on community journalism

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This post is a reflection on a class I took at UNC-CH this past semester, JOMC 459 Community Journalism with the savvy and smiling Jock Lauterer, community journalist extraordinaire.

It would be impossible to sum up this past semester in CJ in a few words. But I’m going to give it a shot.

In chapter 21 of Jock’s Community Journalism textbook, which was the last reading assignment for the course, the main subject was Jeff Byrd, publisher of The Tryon (N.C.) Daily Bulletin. The paper prides itself on being “The World’s Smallest Daily Newspaper.” On the front page of every Bulletin issue, there is a “Curb Reporter” column, which outlines “the triumphs and daily doings” of the local community, in the words of Bulletin founder Seth Vining Sr. These local briefs include local weather, news from residents about grandchildren or special anniversaries, and upcoming community events, to name a few — and they have taken, and always will take, a front and center role in each edition of this community paper.

This “Curb Reporter” idea represents much of what I’ll take away from this semester in Jock’s class. It represents exactly where the value exists in community papers — in the people.

The “value proposition,” which Sanford Herald publisher Bill Horner III discussed when he came to speak to our class a couple of months ago, questions how community newspapers can stay afloat in a competitive contemporary media world.

“You’ve got to add value,” Mr. Horner said.

But that value is not hard to find, in my opinion, because every story matters to somebody. Mr. Horner quoted to us, “The middle of nowhere is the center of someone else’s universe.” There is always news, he said — and I agree.

I’ve learned that well during my role as co-editor of the Carrboro Commons online newspaper, a position I assumed at the start of the semester. On multiple occasions, as the Monday deadline drew near, I spent several frantic hours trying to scavenge for last-minute stories and sources for Carrboro Commons writers.

But even when hope seemed lost (everything had already been covered, and there was nothing else going on), we found a person or a group who had a story to tell, or a fresh angle on an old story, and out popped a CC article. Not only does every story matter to someone, but every person in a community also has some good story to tell.

It’s just a matter of digging a little, and I’ll always have my shovel handy from now on.

That appeal of community journalism (the desire to dig and discover the small but mighty news) is why I would say, if I stay in the journalism field, there is a significant chance I’ll try to land a job at a small newspaper.

I want to go into a new community and have long-time residents take me around and teach me this bit of history and that fun fact.

I want to build relationships with these people and let them tell me their tales.

I want to embrace them not only as sources, but as friendly acquaintances. “Be a person first,” and not a reporter, as Jock would say.

I worked at The Pilot (Southern Pines, N.C.), one of North Carolina’s best-known community papers, as an intern during summer 2012. I didn’t realize how much I loved The Pilot and how much I would miss it and the Sandhills aura until I wasn’t in the newsroom every day for eight (plus) hours. Most importantly, I missed the people, both those in the office and those out in the community doing their community thing.

I’m a small-town girl, and once I graduate from college, I’ll be ready to broaden my small-town knowledge with what I would posit is a fervent personal desire for a small-town career. At least for the time being.

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