Engaging with readers by covering the news that matters to them
One of the wisest comments I ever heard from a newspaper editor was from my friend John Nelson, editorial director of Landmark Community Newspapers. It went something like this: “We need to give readers what they want, but we must also give them what they need – and make them want what they need.”
John was talking with my community journalism class about covering issues, which are too often reduced or limited to “boring government stuff.” Newspapers cover countless meetings of public agencies, but their coverage of those agencies often ends at the meeting.
My students and I cover the old railroad town of Midway, Kentucky, and I teach them that meetings of the City Council are merely a window on a passing train – you get a glimpse of what’s going on, but unless you board the train and start asking questions, you don’t really know what’s going on.
When you start asking questions, and learn how a government action or inaction may affect citizens’ lives, you get information that makes readers want what they need to fulfill their citizenship. They see why they should care about what’s going on at the meetings, and outside the meetings.
Making readers want what they need is all the more important for news media at a time when citizens are getting unverified information from social media, which unlike journalism has no discipline of verification, and misleading information from strategic media – advertising, public relations and political entertainment that too many people mistake for journalism.
I’m seeing more community editors and publishers explain journalism to their readers, and we like to feature such articles on The Rural Blog. The latest one was Publisher Rob Galloway of the Tahoe Daily Tribune in California, who explained the basics, such as the difference in fact and opinion and the need for savvy, responsible news consumers. Read our blog item at https://bit.ly/2JidrXi.
As we explain how journalism is supposed to work and serve citizens with what we think they need, we should also ask them what they want when it comes to covering the issues in their community. That’s the goal of 42 Ohio newsrooms in a community engagement project, Your Voice Ohio. Journalists and citizens found that they both are frustrated by the glut of opioid-overdose stories and are trying to provide information needed to deal with the problem.
The project has held eight community conversations, each lasting about two hours and attracting 100 to 120 people. Participants broke into groups of five or six, with a reporter at each table, and share what the opioid epidemic looks like to them, what they see as the cause, and what steps they could take to fight it. Project coordinators research topics that come from those discussions, and reach out to people who are less likely to attend events but still have something to say. Our blog item on the program is at bit.ly/2qU3cl8.
Another form of reader outreach is explaining how a story was reported or how the newspaper is produced. Few people have ever been in a pressroom, so Charles Myrick, editor of The Mountain Advocate in Barbourville, Kentucky, did a two-minute video of the newspaper’s printing – “insider footage” that draws an audience. The YouTube video ends with an important message: “To produce just one issue of the Mountain Advocate requires employment of dozens of skilled workers in every aspect. It truly takes a team effort! We want to thank our readers and advertisers for continuing to make our jobs possible, and for believing in democracy and freedom of the press.” See bit.ly/2HpLewU.
The Rural Blog is mainly about issues, but we also deal with the issues news media face in paying for coverage of issues. As newspapers try to get more revenue from the audience, they need to know what makes people subscribe. The American Press Institute issued a very good research report on that and we summarized it at bit.ly/2HYT6a0.
One of the most important issue areas for community newspapers is health. Especially in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, dozens of rural hospitals are at a high risk of financial distress. Our latest blog item on that, at bit.ly/2HUpydv, has a map with numbers by state. An earlier item, at bit.ly/2HM8Jnw, looked at the possibility that hospitals’ troubles – and Medicaid work requirements now allowed by the Trump administration – might prompt more states to expand the program.
If your rural hospital gets a surprisingly strong bid to buy it, look close; it might be a scam. Jim Alexrod of CBS reported that rural hospitals “have become gold mines for enterprising health-care executives looking to quietly make a quick buck” by exploiting a reimbursement advantage to net big money from insurance companies, and we excerpted the story at bit.ly/2HMgcCS.
The closure of rural hospitals or their maternity units has led to worse health outcomes for mothers and babies, a national study proved, and we reported it at bit.ly/2FcCPuP.
Wondering how Obamacare enrollment stands in your area? At bit.ly/2qVGubj we have links to an interactive map and a spreadsheet with county data.
Fewer young people are smoking cigarettes, but more are smoking electronic cigarettes, some of which look like big flash drives. We reported on it at bit.ly/2Hmyonj.
Research has found that the active ingredient of the popular herbicide Roundup has been linked to shorter pregnancies, and thus to “lifelong adverse consequences,” researchers reported. See bit.ly/2HX5dnR.
A county-level interactive map shows employment trends in 2017, at bit.ly/2F96YLL.
Another county-based map accompanied our item reporting that America’s rural population rose in 2017, after declining for six years. See bit.ly/2qUORnC.
If you do or see news that should be on The Rural Blog, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.