Month: June 2017

The media is disparaged until the public needs information (and a cute teddy bear to keep things light)

Sunday, June 18

3:40 p.m., The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Large teddy bear in corner of newsroomEvery newsroom has quirky items sitting around, but The New Mexican is winning so far. A large teddy bear sits in the corner, yet no one can really explain why or where he came from, so he forever languishes in a sun-lit corner of the newsroom.

“No one’s quite sure how that bear got here, but it’s been here for a long time,” reporter Robert Nott tells me. “The bear and the sock monkey are left over.”

I don’t see a sock money, but decide to trust him.

A cascading string of origami birds hangs from the ceiling. A camouflage bowling pin with gold butterflies sits on a filing cabinet, a random reminder that ordinary things can be made extraordinary.

Camouflage bowling pin on file cabinet in newsroomDespite these fun visual cues, the day I arrive the staff is somber, still covering a shooting the day before. City Editor Cynthia Miller fills me in on details after Nott gives me a tour of the building:

Tim Baca and his wife were out celebrating her birthday and struck up a conversation with another man, Christopher Owens, and enjoyed the night until, apparently, the two men argued over a song and Owens allegedly shot Baca. The father of four was dead when police arrived on the scene. This came on the heels of a deadly shooting spree just a couple of days earlier.

Many local newsrooms are quiet on Sundays and this is no exception. The only noise is the police scanner in the background as Cynthia talks. Like many journalists, Miller found the profession through her love for creative writing, but that blossomed into a love for journalism, from crime stories to profiles on college graduates.

“I take it personally when I’m looking at my Facebook feed and I see all of these things about ‘the media, the media the lamestream media.’ I consider us to be fairly mainstream media because we’re a local newspaper. We don’t have an agenda — we do have an agenda actually — we are in a state that struggles with poverty, struggles with education, struggles with all sorts of social justice issues, environmental justice issues and we’re interested in letting the community know why these issues are important, how these issues affect our lives and finding solutions.”

Miller talks about how the media is demonized until someone needs to know information, a common thread I’ve heard in newsrooms I’ve visited on my project trip.

Santa Fe New Mexican City Editor Cynthia Miller talks about working in the news industry.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newsroom, Sunday, June 18, 2017
The Santa Fe New Mexican newsroom, Sunday, June 18, 2017

 

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title on medium.com, June 20, 2017.

A real-life Clark Kent, Goldfish crackers, hidden alcohol and a sense of service

Courtesy of Steve Southwell and The Lewisville Texan-Journal, video by Christina Ulsh</font size>

Friday, June 16

3:45 p.m., Lewisville Texan-Journal, Lewisville, Texas

Lewisville, Texas is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth. It has a dog park, skate park, drive-in theater and rodeo arena.

Although Lewisville is filled with characters, none beat the editor of one newspaper, Steve Southwell, an unassuming man who is a clearly a bit bold. In fact, one of the first things I said to him was, “You’re a litle bit nuts.”

I’m not a great conversation starter.

Back in 2015 when many newspapers were gasping for one last breath of air or had been six feet under for years, he started a print edition to accompany the existing Lewisville Texan-Journal website. When everyone else rushed out, he jumped in with a rudimentray printer and stapled first edition.

When the first editon was complete, he celebrated with a shot from his stash of alcohol from the local distillery. (Something I’ve noticed is that all newsrooms have snacks — goldfish are so popular I often wonder if journalist are all just big preschoolers, except for the other constant, hidden alcohol.) Lewisville has a winery, distillery and brewery and all of them carry the Lewisville Texan-Journal.

The only journalism training Southwell had was a semster of journalism in high school.

By day he is a computer programmer. By night he fights injustice in city hall (and school boards, etc.) through journalism. He’s the Clark Kent of Lewisville.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal website started as a “crappy” opinion blog in 2004 and quickly morphed into a news site.

“We were already writing news, so how hard could it possibly be to put it on paper,” he said, shaking his head, followed by a comment about his own naiveté.

Digital to print is not the traditional way to do it. Then again, Steve is a democrat in Texas. But, he points out, a democrat that poeple in the comunity seem to respect. I asked him about checking his bias at the reporting door. “Life and Liberty in the Lonestar State” is Southwell’s paper/website tagline. He knows he is not always going to popular in the community and he understands that, but Southwell fircely defends his reporters.

“All if can tell you is we’ve done our homework, we know it’s true. Our reporting is from practical sources. If they don’t like it, unlike us. Go away. We don’t care.”

Lewisville is bucking the trend as a two-newspaper town. The Lewisville Leader is the older, established newspaper.

“We work harder because they are there and I hope they work harder because we are here,” he said.

Like any good newsman, he gets a glimmer in his eye when he talks about breaking a news story, such as the gas drilling underneath the lake that serves as a water source for Lewisville and Dallas

“We beat all the outher outlets to it and that was because we had relationships embedded in the community,” he said.

His biggest challenge? “Money and time,” he quickly answered. “If we had more money we would have more time. I am not a sales person. I suck at selling ads.”

The staff of the Lewisville Texan-Journal on deadline June 16, 2017
The staff of the Lewisville Texan-Journal on deadline June 16, 2017

 

“The mission is not to make money off of ads,” he said. “It’s kind of a necessity that allows us to do our mission. In the business of news they will say, ‘Your readers are your product, not your audience. You’re selling your readers to the advertisers’ and I just can’t get behind that. That’s why our cover price is free.”

He serves the public, and pointed to the necessity of community news covering what matter to people on a day-to-day basis, where political squabbling among politicians must get put aside.

“At the end of the day, budgets have to get passed. They have to. There’s no democratic or republican way to fix a street,” he says of covering local politics.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal is hidden. It is small. You would never be able to locate the newspaper if you didn’t know it was there and, respecting his wishes, I will keep the location secret. However, it looks nothing like a newspaper buidling and is unmarked, just the way the staff wants it. Anyone who has covered community news knows that the death knell of privacy and work flow is constant interruption. And, while he is a staunch defender of Lewisville and its residents and wants to serve them, he wants to discuss issues by mail, email or offsite somewhere.

As he spoke, I thought about the recent death threats the Sacramento Valley Mirror newspaper received and wondered if more newsrooms should follow this policy.

 

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title published on medium.com, June 18, 2017.

Over 8,000 miles to go: #followmylede continues

As I carried a suitcase heavier than my child down two flights of stairs, through a parking deck to my car in the pre-dawn hours, I cursed myself.

“What. Is. Wrong. With. Me?” I panted, as I tried to lift the comically large suitcase high enough to place it in my trunk.

The answer came back loud and clear: I love journalism.

I get that I’m a little crazy to want to loop the country in an over 8,000-mile long road trip, but we don’t choose our passions. Journalism found me my sophomore year in college in the dingy yet ridiculously fun The Crimson White newsroom on the University of Alabama campus. It’s the same University that — because of it’s Innovation Team — I’m able to take this trip to chronicle American journalism.

Yesterday, I stopped in Liberty City, Texas in the middle of a 10-hour drive. The gas station had four local newspaper choices for towns in and around the city. That’s the dream. The more outlets representing the people, the better.

Newspaper stand in Liberty City, Texas.

Amid the swirling politics and disasters of the weeks before I left for this second leg of my trip, I was reminded that it’s important to chronicle who is bringing us our news. It’s important to document what newsrooms look like in 2017. News outlets don’t usually turn the questions or camera back on themselves, but I will. One of the basic tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is that journalists should watchdog other journalists.

More than that, it’s my goal to take a peek inside the lives of journalists and why — in such a hostile climate for the profession — they do what they do.

Stay tuned. My next post will feature people in Lewisville, Texas who might love journalism more than I do.

 Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title published on medium.com, June 17, 2017.