Every Problem Can Be An Opportunity

Posted: February 17, 2012 in JN 553
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

One thing I have found particularly annoying is that my hometown newspaper, The Sandersville Progress, doesn’t have a website. Sure, we have a Facebook page, but our newspaper only comes out once a week.  I think having a website to focus on news for the other six days of the week, as well as providing another outlet for people that prefer the web is necessary.  We also have another newspaper, The Spotlight, but it has more of the sensational stories and “Busta Mug” shots.  Again, it has a Facebook page, but no website.

The more and more I read Mark Briggs’ Entrepreneurial Journalism, the more I feel compelled to do something.  The last chapter I read was “Don’t Wait; Innovate.”  One particular point that stood out to me was inventing something new means to create what does not exist.  I have toyed around with the idea of starting a WordPress blog dedicated to news in our county, and the things our paper is failing to do.  The reason I haven’t is because in order for me to successfully deliver the news to the people in our county, I feel like I have to be there.  Let’s face it.  I left Tennille and Sandersville, GA for a reason, and I can’t see myself moving back home.  How can I report news and start a site about a town that I’m completely removed from and not particularly interested in moving back to?  Yet, I feel like our community is missing out and behind on so many things.  So, I’m taking some of these examples I’m reading about and trying to force myself to not wait and innovate.

An incident took place a few weeks back where one of our State Court judges was caught speeding and arrested for DUI.  Read the story and view the video here for more information.  It was shocking, and I was irate because this man presides over the county and sentences people for the very same crime he committed.  Not to mention he was almost double the legal limit and could have killed someone.  What I was even more angry about is that our two newspapers waited almost two weeks before covering the story.

The Sandersville Progress chose to focus on the comments from community members (including threats of releasing IP addresses to our local police department) and do a front-page story on the dangers of using the Internet.  Rather than informing our community on what happened, they used a fear tactic to keep them from being engaged and expressing their thoughts on the story.  The Spotlight just reprinted the same story from Fox 24 news.  Had either newspaper had an online site, they could have broke the news earlier instead of waiting a week or more later until the print date.  They also could have done a better job of reporting the story, and could have approached it from so many angles.  But I guess it goes back to what we’ve been learning all year in the Community Journalism program here at the University of Alabama.  Running a community newspaper sometimes comes down to who you know, and the fact that if you run a story about a prominent judge in the county that you also attend church with, it may not go over so well the next Sunday during prayer and worship.

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Comments
  1. Kristy Shaulis says:

    Michelle,
    I applaud your decision to try to do what you can for your hometown even though you’ve moved away. At times, I’ve been incredibly frustrated with my hometown newspaper (even though they do have a website) because they make so many basic, simple mistakes and their web strategy seems so outdated. However, I think sometimes that is often also because it is a newspaper that tries to give local reporters an opportunity to learn and things slip through the cracks. If I look back at some of my own stories, I’m sure there are mistakes that printed that would make me cringe today. Regardless, I think what you’re doing is great, and I think that what you’ve learned at UA can really be a great resource your community.

    • sarahcoleua says:

      I feel your pain. I know you read my post about the Demopolis Times. Yes, we have a website, but it’s almost as if we don’t since they don’t have a full understanding of how to properly utilize that outlet. It’s sad, but the Times and your hometown papers need are people like you who know what’s going on, and who understand the importance of establishing yourself digitally. You don’t have to move back home, but maybe you can pitch some ideas to them. Guide them. Give them advice (and then make them do all the dirty work…I’m kidding). But seriously. I think you have some fantastic ideas swirling around in that head of yours. So who knows, maybe when you actually have some free time on your hands, you can contact those papers and give them a piece of your mind.

      And I totally agree. Running a small-town paper is way different from those big city papers. Everyone knows everyone, and one thing you don’t want to do is cause controversy over something you printed in the paper. But then it’s not fair to those journalists who are required to report the truth. They’re having to hold back information to protect the already tattered reputations of their fellow community members. Maybe it’s ethically sound on that side of the argument, but what about their devotion to the world of journalism? There will always be a constant battle between the two. Sigh. Guess we just can’t win.

  2. christicowan says:

    Michelle,

    I think the short answer is no, you probably cannot effectively run a community website like that without living and interacting there. However, maybe you could use your skills in web development and analytics to help the newspaper staff figure it out. Perhaps you could be a consultant of sorts to get the project off the ground. Best of luck!

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