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Front Page » October 21, 2003 » Opinion » Community journalism
Published 3,930 days ago

Community journalism


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate publisher

Few businesses affect the public to the degree that newspapers do. Last week was National Newspaper Week and I thought several times about the role that community journalism plays in the community it serves.

True community journalism has been defined as the style of intensely local-first coverage provided by small newspapers. The American Society of Newspaper Editors draws the line between large and small newspapers at the 50,000 circulation mark. That means there are about 1533 small daily newspapers and almost 7,400 weeklies in America.

Using this as a benchmark all but just a couple newspapers in Utah are considered small and with so many rural counties with small populations taking of the majority of Utah's geography. Like other western states, communities are served by weekly community newspapers.

When you find a newspaper that concentrates on local coverage, has a tone that is positive and supportive, and also strives to find solutions to community issues, you have found a newspaper that practices community journalism.

Community journalism is the belief that newspapers have an obligation that goes beyond just telling the news or unloading facts. Journalism can help empower a community or it can help disable it. In small towns like Price or Helper, our local newspaper is one of the links that connects people. It is one of the ways the community is maintained. It is part of the local discussion on issues that concern the community.

Last week as I reflected National Newspaper Week it took me back to 1976 when I was just a kid, mid-20's and I went to work for my first newspaper in rural eastern Montana. The editor for that newspaper was retiring after 40-plus years and because of health she had not been able to leave the office in over 10 years to cover a story. I was young and full of energy and began covering events, taking photos and writing stories from all corners of the county. Little did I realize at the time but I was practicing community journalism. I got involved with the Jaycees and city council, I attended the football games and covered events and celebrations like they had never been covered before.

In small communities I know that the publisher or reporters are recognized on the street. The people at the newspaper belong to the same organizations and churches as the rest of the community. There is an accessibility and interactive quality that makes the newspaper a community resource.

But because newspapers cover people and activities, they also cover things some people don't want to see. I am still appalled that three of our schools in the county do not want the Sun Advocate delivered free to their school because many children's parents from these communities are sometimes listed in the court news and jail bookings. That's a fine example of denying children the right to read their local newspaper while continuing to hide dysfunction in the community.

We hear from people all the time with ideas and suggestions on how to improve the newspaper and we feel we have made many improvements and changes in the past couple years. We have to ask ourselves questions about what we do. In today's world where people are constantly bombarded with information, where does our community newspaper fit in the hearts and minds of the people? What do citizens think and feel about various issues? How do people perceive our role in the community and in their day-to-day lives?

Today, more than ever before, newspapers have to connect with readers and advertisers, bringing relevance and value to their day-to-day lives. Right now we are hearing from you that we need people-centered news and that is presently at the top of our list.

To do this we need you, the reader to give your input and opinions. It is our goal to deliver solid community news and information.


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