An intern’s thoughts on community journalism

Victoria Sanchez has been part of an internship through the University of Oregon’s Snowden Grant program

(Editor’s Note: Victoria Sanchez has been part of an internship through the University of Oregon’s Snowden Grant program since mid June and completed her 10-week internship this week. In that time, Victoria has written 17 stories, ranging from the Siuslaw Watershed to local housing, business women in Florence and House Bill 2020. It has been a true pleasure having her as part of our news team.)    

Aug. 31, 2019 — Local journalism is what sets the expectation for major news outlets, or at least it should. Community newspapers like the Siuslaw News and other locally based media outlets are the most important sources of information in Florence.

Nowhere else can residents consistently read about what happened at the school board, city council, planning commission meeting or any of the other dozens of monthly meetings and events that take place in and around the community. But it’s not just the fact that area residents have the option of reading so many localy focused stories —  it’s that the news team at the Siuslaw News holds itself to higher journalistic standards which I would argue some major news outlets tend to stray from.

In the rapidly evolving world of social media and the 24 hour televised news cycle, the lines between what is actual news and what is opinion are blurring. There is no place for a journalist’s opinion in a news article; this is why we have the “opinion” section.

News answers what happened, to who and when, where it happened and why. The why is explored more in feature stories, but even features hold the same standards of news.

Through my time at the Siuslaw News, my hope for the world of journalism was renewed and strengthened as I was surrounded by talented journalists who uphold the principles of journalism: telling the truth and telling it well.

It’s better to take the time necessary to tell the whole story with the most accurate information available rather than rush to print with something incomplete or inaccurate.

As I discovered in my 10 weeks as a University of Oregon Snowden Grant journalism intern here, this is the ideology of the newsroom at Siuslaw News.

The fact is, there’s never enough time with news. Journalists face the challenge of telling readers the what, who, where, when and why of what happened to the best of their abilities in a relatively short period of time, with facts checked and double-checked in order to tell each story in a cohesive manner.

At the same time, as much as the goal of accuracy is the aim, errors occur in small newsrooms; names get misspelled, dates get mixed up and, ultimately, we get things wrong sometimes.

Journalists are, after all, human.

Over the past few months at the Siuslaw News, I’ve listened to multiple conversations about how to approach a topic, how difficult reporting situations should be approached and have been approached in the past, and why it’s important to cover as many public meetings and events as possible.

The theme in all of these conversations was always the same: How best to inform and educate the public in a way that is balanced and unbiased.

On a basic level, journalists spend their lives informing the public on what’s happening. This drives what we write about; it propels our ethical integrity and should. The public is our audience; it’s who we essentially serve.

This is why local journalism is so important and what makes community journalism different than large media reporters. Being part of a small town means everybody knows just about everybody. And while that can be welcoming for a community journalist, it also puts an extra sense of obligation on reporters to do things well — which in turn drives good journalism.

At the local level, reporters take the time to discuss how stories will affect the community, when to hold a story from publication because it doesn’t have all the facts yet. National news publications can certainly replicate this ideal, but it starts at the ground level and works its way up.

Yet we must take into account how national publications have a very different focus than local newspapers.

The Siuslaw News fills in the news gaps for western Lane County while the news sources such as the Register-Guard covers central Lane County. The Eugene Weekly, meanwhile, focuses on more hyperlocal stories while the R-G incorporates more national news.

They all tend to work together but separately for the people of Oregon.

But the model of community journalism can — and should — be replicated at the larger outlets in terms of attention to details in the story, the ethical conversations that need to take place in newsrooms, and the strict adherence to giving the public the most accurate and well-researched information available.

There are, of course, many national news publications that are already doing this, just as there are local newspapers that fall short. But during my time at the Siuslaw News, I was given the opportunity to see how large an impact great community journalism can have on a community — and throughout my future career as a journalist, that notion will continue driving the standards I hold for myself and at other news publications where I may work.


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