Saturday, November 30, 2013

Everyone’s 15 Minutes: Local News

Meg Omecene

Everyone’s 15 Minutes: Local News

Like clockwork, the week before a play opened at my high school, there would be a buzz in the auditorium. Bethany was inside. Had she brought a photographer? 

Bethany was not some reporter from People Magazine or US Weekly. No, of course not. Rather, she was the local from the Pine-Creek Journal, there to create a hard-hitting piece about whatever was the unique quality of this season’s production.

The following Wednesday, some lucky junior or senior would grace the cover of the Pine-Creek Journal. His or her face, caked in makeup and marred by a microphone, would smile at the entire community for the ensuing week. From Panera to the gym to the library, everyone knew the star of the cover.

Of course, the thrill of the high school thespians is just one aspect of local journalism, and I feel like I know this niche well.
Photos like the above appear frequently in community journalism- and these students had a thrill to see their face in print. (Photo courtesy Pine-Creek Journalism)

I think that the “Hyperlocal Heroes” has a bias that discredits it. The person who wrote the piece seemed to have an overly critical view of small-town journalism, but I think that is flawed.

He says that the stories are good if you need to talk about something at dinner, but what is wrong with that? In a small community (and therefore small market), people generally genuinely care more about their neighbors.  

While a story about a senior’s Eagle Scout project is probably not the most exciting thing to write about, the people or the community that the project services do care to hear about it. They want to know about those around them; why not choose to write about it?

However, sometimes I do not think that Miss Bethany The Reporter was always a true journalist. 

Sometimes, I think that people who write local news behave more as public relations personnel than as reporters. While an Eagle Scout project would have a large article about it, showcasing how great the students of my community are, it was not as if the community was lily-white and sinless.

When the athletic director at my school was charged with a repeat DUI offense, there was not a word printed in the paper. When the class president blew a .25 on a breathalizer at a party, that was passed over. When there was outrage over the athletics department receiving money that had been intended for academic use, there was no story.

Although those events are all newsworthy -- especially for a small market -- they would never be written about in the paper. Our local news acted purely as something that could be shown to people considering moving to the area. “Look how great we are here!” The paper cannot afford to lose the support of the community by exposing less-than perfect aspects of the community. 

I think I would have a really hard time acting as a small-town journalist. It would be so hard to set aside loyalties to show what is really going on in a community -- as dirty as it can be. Public relations is where my strengths lie.

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