As an avid consumer of local news, I have preferences and opinions on how it is gathered and distributed across different media. At times I am quite impressed by the level of quality and professionalism on display, and at other times I find myself grumbling, “you know we can see you, right?” at the television. I find myself equally split as I peruse local and regional web-only publications, wondering if Strunk and White have gone the way of Perry White.
Television news has a particular impact on local communities. The reach and visibility extend beyond the screen, with many of the news teams supporting different communities and local organizations through public appearances, speaking engagements, and giving campaigns that benefit the locales they cover. These public service engagements leverage the “News Personality” appeal of broadcasters.
Print journalists are more often unrecognized as they move about the communities they serve. The work they do is valued by the words they share, without the benefit of the catchy jingles or exciting graphics. Their voice is not the one we hear; it is the one we read.
Consumers used to have to go to the media to get what they needed. Today, the media has to go to the consumer, finding them where they are. Business models morph as technology and culture change. Revenue streams once counted as subscription rates and advertising blocks, now include clicks and listens. The ability to watch or read content when the consumer wants it, rather than when the media outlet serves it up fresh, changes the weighted value of traditional metrics.
Advertisers now have a more extensive range of data points they can study to determine the effectiveness of their marketing spend. These metrics can drive those advertisers to different channels, which in turn forces the media companies to re-balance their portfolios to retain both consumers and clients.
The stories and rumors once exchanged over the clothesline are now bulk-loaded into the leaky washing machine of Facebook groups and Nextdoor pages. Technology has made anyone with a smart device and an appropriate vocabulary an instant expert. Jumbles of fact, opinion, and occasional malice get tossed, untreated, into the spin cycle, and often end up dirtier and nearly unrecognizable.
Yet, even with all of these challenges, local news continues to inform readers and viewers through their primary outlets. More often than not, it is done well. Still, I had some questions about the consistency of the products we get here in this beautiful region.
What motivates the broadcasters, print journalists, and the news organizations that serve the area? How do the local broadcasters and print journalists adjust to the non-stop changes?
I sent out a series of questions to journalists across the region, looking for insights that would help me better understand the world of local news through the experiences of those who do it for a living. I sought input from on-air talent, by-lined reporters and writers, and producers and editors responsible for the news consumers see, read, and hear. I also sought input from educators who teach the technical, communication, and presentation skills that apply across all channels.
The response was mixed, with some journalists sharing thoughtful responses and helpful information. Some organizations were less open. Requests for comment, as they say, went unanswered. Maybe I was asking the wrong questions or using the wrong approach. Perhaps I need to get a better reporter on the case.
The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
As I progressed through the research portion of this endeavor, I realized that I was focusing solely on the outlets that I see and read. I was ignoring the obvious – the overall population in the region is quite diverse, and for many, English is not the primary or most comfortable language. So how do broadcasters reach these sections of the overall community? I don’t know…yet.
Local broadcast news on the Central Coast is different from what I watched back east. In New York, NBC = channel 4, ABC = channel 7, and CBS = channel 2. This format held when I lived in Connecticut with network parents and local affiliate news organizations airing in regular time slots on their dedicated channels.
NBC New York featured Sue Simmons, Chuck Scarborough, Len Berman and a young Al Roker. The prototype for a local news lineup – dual anchors, weatherman/personality, and sportscaster.
After moving west, it took some time to adjust to a very different television news landscape. The same newscasters appear on different channels, with multiple network affiliations. Some newscasts run simultaneously, and others in air consecutive time slots.
According to the 2019 Nielsen DMA Rankings, the San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria-Santa Barbara market ranks #124 of 210. Relatively close markets include Fresno – Visalia at #54, Bakersfield, at #122. Los Angeles ranks #2, and the San Francisco – Oakland – San Jose market comes in at #8.
The Central Coast has two primary English-language news organizations that broadcast on multiple networks. Broadcasts are sculpted to target specific geographies, though both groups strive to be inclusive of content that is of interest and importance to nearby communities. Roughly speaking, the team from KSBY News focuses on San Luis Obispo County, and the KCOY/KEYT group covers Southern San Luis Obispo down through Santa Barbara county.
The two organizations rely on a core group of experienced anchors, reporters, and forecasters. Both serve as a training and development platform for journalists, producers, and directors who are new to the world of professional broadcasting.
Richard Gearhart is a long-tenured member of the San Luis Obispo based KSBY news team. He currently serves as an anchor on the evening broadcasts. He is also an associate professor at California Polytechnic State University. (Cal Poly)
At Santa Maria-based KCOY, anchor Scott Hennessee quarterbacks multiple evening broadcasts. Jim Lemon is the News Director for KCOY 12.
The primary question I posed to each journalist was the same – Do you see your job as a journalist, news personality, broadcaster, or other?
Scott Hennessee replied, “Everyone in our newsroom is a journalist first. When I’m on the air, I’m a broadcast journalist communicating information as clearly and accurately as possible. I don’t necessarily see myself as a TV personality. There are occasional opportunities within the newscast to show some of my personality, and I’m always happy to meet new people out in the community, whether they watch our news or not.”
Richard Gearhart has a similar view. “I think of myself as a journalist first. TV journalism right now is a bit personality-driven – the reason is more about credibility than personality. News consumers are looking for trustworthy sources. They “know” their local anchors and reporters and hopefully trust them.”
Jim Lemon added, “For what we do, journalist is first and foremost. There are occasions (hosting the Turkey Drive, the Rodeo Parade, etc.) where “personality” comes into play, but even then, at the foundation, we’re journalists. We’re also broadcasters in that one of our mediums (television) is that field. We also provide content on digital platforms, which brings it back to the overall “journalist” description.”
An anchor’s job requires a diverse set of talents. Jim Lemon describes the must-have skills for the position. “The anchor is a good leader in the newsroom. He or she communicates well while keeping track of other things happening during the broadcast.” He continues, “A successful anchor also takes a direct role in ‘how’ and ‘what’ is written in copy. In local markets, it also includes being interested in the community and ways to enrich/enhance it.”
Scott cites experience as the best teacher when it comes to anchoring – the more you do it, the more comfortable you get. He believes that knowing the history of the area can help bring some perspective to his reporting. “I’m always seeking out information about all kinds of things news and culture – related that help me have a greater understanding of the stories we tell.”
Local news organizations are fertile ground for developing talent. Many producers and directors that staff the broadcasts tend to be in the early stages of their careers. Both these veteran anchors guide and mentor on-air talent and behind-the-camera personnel.
As a news director, Jim observes that in smaller markets, anchors often have much more experience than those around them, especially producers. Therefore, primary anchors have a de facto leadership responsibility. Both Scott and Richard echo Jim’s observations.
Scott expands, “I have had occasion to work very closely with producers who are new to us. Once they get the hang of things, it is wonderful to see them flourish. Most of our producers are here for 2-3 years, and almost all of them move on to the top 30 media markets.”
Richard agrees. “In our case, producers and directors tend to be at the “early career” level. So here, the anchor team, to a certain extent, oversees the producers.” One of Richard’s objectives is to coach newer multimedia journalists. He is currently mentoring two reporters.
Direction, Tone and Content
Scott’s description of how the broadcasts come together is similar to organizations across the country. An assignment editor gathers story ideas from outside sources, reporters, and anchors. The stories are discussed at two daily editorial meetings that focus on daytime and nighttime broadcasts. The selected segments are then brought up to a broadcast-ready level. Feedback happens in a nightly post-newscast session.
KSBY’s current owner (E.W. Scripps) has a long history and an excellent reputation in the field of journalism. Corporate has a content management division, and both local and home office management keep a close eye on what’s happening. The news team also gets a surprising amount of feedback from viewers.
Jim Lemon, KCOY News Director – In college, we learn the legal aspects of journalism: defamation, libel, the 5 Ws and the H. Once in the field, it’s about experience, learning from your colleagues, and keeping an eye on national or local trends.
Both organizations are embracing additional digital outlets, primarily social media. Facebook and Twitter feature feeds from the parent stations and the individual members of the broadcast teams. Live streams are used to break the news, share behind the scenes glimpses of productions, update in-progress sporting events, and tease upcoming broadcast stories.
Websites are regularly updated and tweaked to be easier to navigate. The presentation elements of promotional clips, talent features, and branded shows play out across every channel, complete with upbeat music, quick-cut video, and scenic backdrops that define the region. The recently updated KSBY studios sport a modern look supported by bold colors and attractive graphics.
With all of that, however, it comes down to the talent. They go after it all day, every day. Sometimes they make one mutter.
And there are the shining moments of excellence.
From the Front Lines
Live and Local
California’s 2017 – 2018 fire season was brutal. Explosive wildfires and the associated threats that came along with the flames tore through dense forests and threatened multiple communities.
Local and national news organizations sent in teams to show the public what was looming over the glowing hills.
At local NBC affiliate KSBY, it was all hands on deck. Anchors, multimedia reporters, and even the sportscasters picked up a microphone, put on a windbreaker, and went out into the field. These critical communicators worked endless shifts under incredibly dangerous conditions. Many a live update ended abruptly, with reporters being told to get out of the area quickly. They moved a short distance away, reestablished communications, and resumed doing the critical work of telling the evolving story.
Watching these reporters – many of them young women and men early on in their careers – was fascinating. They rose to the challenge, balancing their physical safety with the need to get close to the unfolding events. Absent the time and safe workspace to build and edit the story, they went live and delivered outstanding work. The core skills, talents, and personalities of the reporter were on display. They managed through briefings with emergency response managers and terrified residents, delicately asking difficult questions of people at their most vulnerable.
As the battle wore on, viewers could see the toll this was taking on the reporters. They saw it all, from devastated residents to exhausted first responders, and they told the stories while absorbing the collective weight of global suffering and danger.
And they did all of this for days on end.
“I Am A Journalist”
Among those determined reporters, Megan Abundis’ work stood out. She charged into the story with intense focus and genuine concern for those who were in the unpredictable path of the relentless fire. Megan delivered her updates with the skill of a veteran field reporter and the fearlessness of youth.
“I am a journalist,” Megan states with conviction. I take my job incredibly seriously. Reporting at those fires really meant a lot to me. It was a heavy responsibility, and each day was harder than the next. I think about that mudslide and fires more often than not.
Megan continued developing her skills on the Central Coast, rotating through assignments that included field reporting, occasional weekend anchoring, and weather (everybody does the weather.) In a performance that left the rest of the news team slack-jawed, she delivered a sports report that was ESPN-worthy.
Megan earned a Communication degree in Broadcast Journalism from Washington State University, Pullman. During her four years at WSU, she did multiple, cross-discipline radio and television internships. These stints gave her real-world experience in professional news writing and producing.
Upon graduating, Megan followed the path familiar to many in broadcast journalism, landing a job in a smaller media market. She shares, “KSBY was my first job. I was able to learn and grow immensely because of the staff and mentors there.”
Moving Forward, Reaching Back
Megan takes ownership of her career development. She attends industry conferences, follows the work of her role models, and, as she says, by “reading, reading, reading!”
She is a role model for the next generation of journalists. She advises students at her Alma Mater, preparing them for the transition from student to professional, setting expectations for what they can expect from their first job.
Megan’s career path has taken her to KOB-4 in Albuquerque, New Mexico ( #47), where she collaborates with a team that includes the news director, executive producers, assignment desk editors, web staff, and fellow reporters. She holds a place in her heart for her first professional job.
“I am very thankful to KSBY viewers for learning and growing with me. My first reporting job was nothing but great! ”
The stream of new faces that roll across the local screens gives a glimpse of just how many aspiring broadcast journalists are competing for the opportunity to build a career. Many of these faces are fresh out of college, and some are transplants from other markets across the country.
For the rookies, landing a spot comes with some real struggles. Compensation is minimal, while the cost of living in the San Luis Obispo region is challenging for many established professionals in any career.
A scan of several job tracking sites confirms the compensation reality. Anonymous comments from current and former employees underscore the challenges of living in a high-cost region.
“The pay is the only thing that makes people look elsewhere. Unless you’re already in a more senior position (anchor/manager), it’s unlikely you’ll have the ability to stay here beyond paying your dues for a year or two.” Taken from an employee review on Glassdoor
In an informal conversation, an aspiring reporter from one of the area broadcast organizations shared the frustrations of building a resume, learning the region, dealing with unpredictable shifts, all while living over an hour away because that was the only reasonably affordable place to live. A second reporter made ends meet working in the foodservice industry while building a portfolio of increasing depth. These stories are familiar among many young professionals, though few other jobs place neophytes in the public eye, where they have to appear sharp, focused, and confident while on camera or in print.
Judith Pratt is a retired professor emeritus of California State University, Bakersfield, where she taught Communications for 31 years, focusing primarily on journalism and gender studies. Prior to Cal State Bakersfield, Judith was a journalist in Bakersfield and before that, in Canada. I reached out to Judith to get her views on the state of local news in general, and her observations on how our area outlets are doing.
Judith echoed the economic challenges new reporters face, describing one Bakersfield news person’s early career as a week-day reporter and weekend waitress. Aspirants accept that the entry-level pay scale is low. They have few choices, needing the experience to build a resume that will lead them to the next level or a larger market.
For some, Judith observes, this challenge incites the competitive spirit and unlocks the characteristics that build solid journalists. The good ones maximize their experience and move on to the next opportunity — the less successful migrate into other areas of the profession, or different businesses altogether.
Judith keeps an eye on the local media scene from her home in Cambria. Many of her observations aligned with my own, though her personal experience added great depth to my understanding. She pointed out a few areas that I had not considered, such as the importance of local sports coverage in small and medium-sized communities. Local sports are often a common rallying point. Good local coverage helps build community pride and involvement. A feature article or a highlight reel finds a way to family members who live in different towns or states. Grandparents still keep press clippings, and young athletes find inspiration and motivation through positive attention.
Less is Less
Providing in-depth coverage of school board meetings, local political goings-on, and projects that affect communities is a challenge. There are not enough reporters to cover everything, so alternative outlets often fill the gaps left by downsized media.
Judith uses her experience as a journalist to build an example of this diminution. In earlier times, local media would do an excellent job of taking a national issue, such as tariffs, and bring it down to the local level. Almond growers, in her example, are hit with tariffs that raise the cost of exporting the product to overseas markets. Those increases affect local growers, who see their output sit still, not generating any revenue. This loss of income then impacts local budgets, as the taxes paid are reduced. At the same time, the grower tightens the family belt, reducing the amount of money spent with local suppliers.
Good local reporting would, in the past, follow the chain of events, explaining the cause and effect at each stop, personalizing and humanizing in ways that resonated with the reader. Some outlets still do these types of stories, but they are as likely to be delivered as a podcast as a by-lined newspaper story or a local broadcast news feature.
The journalists who contributed to this piece validated Judith’s observations.
Teach Them Well
The commitment to developing journalists Judith experienced at Cal State Bakersfield is also found closer to her current home.
San Luis Obispo, located between the major markets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, is home to California Polytechnic State University – better known a Cal Poly. As the name implies, the curriculum approach is multi-dimensional. This philosophy extends across the disciplines from Engineering, Agriculture, Performing Arts, Graphic Arts, and Journalism.
From the University’s website:
Cal Poly’s Journalism Department is one of California’s most innovative undergraduate journalism programs, among the first in the country to take an integrated approach to student media, mirroring developments in the industry. The department embodies a polytechnic university philosophy, offering a technology-rich, student-focused environment that fosters student curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Learn By Doing
Cal Poly has an impressive range of student-staffed and run media outlets under the banner of Mustang Media Group. Here, professors guide students as they move from the classroom to the newsroom. The forward-thinking department has created an integrated multimedia organization where students can do the actual work of journalism. The department recognizes that to be successful in a journalism career, students need to be skilled in a range of communication styles. Specific tools and required technical knowledge may vary from discipline to discipline, but the skills of collecting, constructing, producing, and communicating information are core to every channel.
Professors Brady Teufel and Patrick C. Howe collaborated on a terrific case study detailing the Cal Poly project to create an integrated media operation. They are published in College Media Review/ Journal of the College Media Association.
Though focused on transformation in the academic environment, the work described, and the results achieved seem to be entirely translatable to the world of commercial journalism. Most of the goals and desired outcomes would look right at home in any media business.
- More thorough news coverage
- Increased revenue and reach
- More experimentation
- Positive culture shift
- Increased recognition
- Public Relations Integration
- Curriculum improvement
- Leadership structure changes
Classroom to Newsroom
The continuum of University student to a professional broadcaster is exemplified by current Daybreak anchor Christina Favuzzi, who joined the KSBY team in 2015 after earning her degree in broadcast journalism from Cal Poly. In her current role, Ms. Favuzzi delivers a mix of news, weather, local happenings, and human interest stories from the anchor table and the field. Christina and the Daybreak team utilize both the daily television broadcast, and regular social media live streams to deliver the news with a personal and at times, informal style. Much like the hosts of the national Big Three Morning programs, the Daybreak team is a blend of journalists, News Personality, and broadcaster.
Megan Healy is another Cal Poly graduate who is making quick strides at KSBY. After graduating with a degree in Journalism, Megan joined the station as a multimedia journalist, and within one year was promoted to a spot as weekend anchor.
Cal Poly is also well-represented at KCOY/KEYT. Managing Editor Ed Zuchelli is a third-generation Mustang, Lindsay Zuchelli serves as the Executive Producer for KEYT-KCOY-KKFX.
CalPoly’s contribution to the local media landscape extends into the world of print journalism. Tribune editor and columnist Joe Tarica shares, “The Cal Poly journalism department gave me all the tools I needed to start my career at the time. I learned reporting, editing, design, photography, etc., in class and the lab that was Mustang Daily. I was ready to work right out the door.” SLO New Times staff writer Karen Garcia also credits her Cal Poly experience for her development as a journalist.
All The News That’s Fit
In the New York of my youth, Print Journalism stood equally tall alongside broadcast news. The NY Daily News and The NY Post battled it out for tabloid supremacy. The New York Times provided both intellectual and physical heft to mix. Regional papers like Long Island’s Newsday and Westchester’s Gannett papers covered the suburbs and the places where boroughs rubbed up against towns. El Diaro served the Spanish-speaking communities, while The Irish Echo catered to families who had emigrated from the Emerald Isle.
The legendary Village Voice filled the Weekly Alternative slot. Deep-thinking novelists shared pages with political pundits, music critics, neighborhood gadflies, and endless classifieds for everything from help-wanted to Times Square sex shows. Buried in these pages were greats and soon to be greats like Norman Mailer, Jack Newfield, and Michael Musto.
There are parallels with today’s newspaper landscape here on the Central Coast. Two, in particular, stand out, with a third being a hyper-local subset of one.
Cambria Library has the news
The Tribune is similar to the Gannett Westchester papers, covering the region and the unique cities, towns, and populations that fall within the geography. New Times has echoes of The Village Voice in both content and attitude.
The Cambrian and parent Tribune both carry a newsstand price and various subscription options that span the printed paper and the digital offerings. New Times is free to readers, with a healthy mix of advertisers fueling the economic engine that keeps the weekly going.
I had the great pleasure of exchanging thoughts with three area print journalists, each at different points in their careers.
Joe Tarica is the editor of the Tribune. He is also an opinion columnist when the mood or the topic strikes him. Joe began his career at the then Telegram-Tribune as a copy editor in 1993.
Karen Garcia is a staff writer for alternative weekly SLO New Times. She is a relative newcomer, currently in her third year as a professional journalist.
Kathe Tanner is a reporter/columnist for The Cambrian, the local outlet for The Tribune. Kathe joined The Cambrian in 1981 as a columnist and has also worked as an advertising, radio, and television copywriter. Kathe has been honored with nearly three dozen first – or second-place individual awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, including one for the best journalistic writing in the state in 2003.
Journalists Joe Tarica, Karen Garcia, and Kathe Tanner
Even with differences in age, experience, and audiences, the similarities to each other were striking. Perhaps some traits are unique to print journalists. Here’s an example – I asked what drew them to careers as writers and journalists.
Joe Tirica – “I knew I wanted a job in communications because English was my favorite subject. I also had a strong belief in freedom of information and the First Amendment and their importance to our democracy. So journalism was a natural fit for a college major that would yield a sensible job.”
Kathe Tanner – “I’ve been a writer all my life, writing grammar-school English essays about “Grammar and her grandchildren, “Adjective and Adverb.” She also converted a middle-school history assignment into a statistically accurate Richard Armour-style essay. (The teacher failed it, saying, “There’s no place in history for humor.” I told him, “Then you’ve been reading different textbooks than I have.”)
Karen Garcia – “I loved English classes in high school. I was always asking questions, discussing what was going on in the news with my mother. I was drawn to journalism because it’s a platform to ask questions, find out how people think, and understand how events, policies, and decisions affect a community.”
Finding The Story
All three journalists describe the general process for determining what is covered and what is published. At The Tribune, reporters pitch stories from their beats, which are evaluated for substantial value and interest to the community. As an Editor, Joe ensures the team is covering the best local stories, while also building higher-level enterprise coverage strategies that determine what projects to tackle. Joe details the objectives and guidelines; “Here, we are looking for impact and change. What are the most important issues to our communities, and how can we inform the public and motivate action?”
For Karen and her New Times colleagues, the thought process is similar. The staff members have areas they cover and determine what stories they feel will be impactful and informative. She describes a highly collaborative environment, rich with mentors who share their knowledge and experience in the service of the story. The journalist writes the story, and the team provides support and guidance.
As the primary representative of her paper, Kathe has to evaluate the entire Cambria landscape and determine what of the many goings-on are most important, most interesting, and most entertaining. She has to balance a plethora of monthly Board meetings – Cambria Community Services District, Healthcare District, School Board, and North Coast Advisory Committee are the most visible. There are a host of other organizations that are active and newsworthy, so they are part of the coverage equation. On top of the steady-state goings-on, newsworthy events pop up all the time. Police activity, fires, car crashes, at-risk citizens, earthquakes, power outages – the pool of potential stories run deep.
Both Kathe and Joe write columns, Kathe, on a more regular basis. Joe has more latitude in choosing when he writes. His passion and sense of fairness is often a catalyst. As he says, “When I write, I’m mostly driven by outrage about a particular subject. Because I don’t write often, this is usually a pretty high bar.”
Kathe often bases her columns on life as a community member, a wife, and a matriarch. She uses humor and self-awareness to great effect. Within her columns, light-hearted as they are, readers will find multiple bits of useful information and a sense of historical perspective. Whether it is Cambria-specific or call-backs to earlier times in her life, Kathe ties it all up into a pleasant read.
Kathe shared the challenges of being a reporter in the community she has called home for decades. “I had to stop serving on various nonprofit boards because, as our reporting staff kept getting smaller, my “beat” got larger, and I had to cover those activities. A responsible journalist doesn’t serve and report on the same things.” She also has to report on people she has known for many years, sometimes in unfavorable circumstances. “I’ll always bend over backward to be fair,” she shares. This fairness means asking the tough questions, listening to the answers, and reporting the subject’s side of the story.
Karen’s position with New Times allows her to work in her favored style, which is longer-form, multi-layered journalism that blends topical news with human interest. Her recent series on the students of The Grizzly Academy is a perfect example of her strength. This series follows her earlier, compelling look at the impacts of immigration policy on local residents touched by forced separation. On the traditional local news beat, Karen explored Fire Services across the area and reported on individual town and regional challenges while keeping sight of the big picture of just how connected the underlying issues are.
Karen is a big fan of NPR radio. It is the soundtrack to her daily drive to work. She has an appreciation for the depth and nuance of the interviews and investigative reporting that are the hallmarks of the genre. She described enjoying the atmospherics of crunching leaves and snapping twigs, faintly heard behind an interview conducted during a walk in the woods. This type of color is challenging to recreate in a written piece, but there are hints in some of Karen’s most insightful work.
Traditional print journalism is under constant pressure to capture and keep readers and advertisers. Like any business, revenues drive resources. Declines shrink the number of reporters, editors, photographers and support staff that are the lifeblood of any newspaper. Still, the news must be covered.
Generational behavioral shifts, fueled by technology advances, are changing how print organizations are covering and reporting. The costs to print physical papers do not go down with the number of copies sold. Technology helps a bit on the production side, with digital tools accelerating how stories are compiled, edited, and sent to print. High-speed digital printers ingest a large amount of data efficiently, and automated workflows handle the process of printing and finishing the paper. Print runs are scaled down or up based on analytics and smart editors who gauge the potential readership by the content of a particular edition. Art and Science meet at the speed of today’s 24-hour news.
All of this automation and digital connectivity means newspapers are produced and distributed from locations around the state. Larger publishers now consolidate multiple publications into a single print facility. Smaller papers have access to the same production processes.
Production efficiency is just one part of the overall technology equation. The biggest threat and opportunity for traditional print media is the internet. Publishers large and small are continually adjusting to the reality of on-demand information. Journalism continues, but the journalists approach their work in different ways.
A New (Virtual) Reality
Journalists are facing the same opportunities that every marketer, retailer, credit card company, and utility face when building and maintaining a dialog with their customers. Technology moves quickly, demanding the attention of both the business and creative brains to create excellent, relevant content, and deliver it to consumers wherever they want it.
A simplistic view – it’s the internet, how hard can it be? The reality – the internet is the highway to webpages, integrated news feeds, stand-alone applications, tweets, Instagrams, and text alerts. Information lands on multiple device platforms, from cell phones to tablets, computers, even smartwatches. It isn’t one font fits all; its all fonts behaving differently on different screens.
Joe Tarica captures this new reality. “Print journalism is more important now than ever, but we must ensure we’re paying as much attention to where we can respond the quickest and reach new audiences. We need to be open to using new tools and adapting rapidly.” In Joe’s world, digital media, rather than a printed newspaper, is becoming the default platform. The aim is to meet readers where they are or will be: on the website, mobile platforms, social media, and through alerts and newsletters.
Social Media – Friend or Foe?
All the journalists understand that social media presents excellent opportunities to reach readers/followers quickly and accurately when needed. It also serves as a platform to connect with the communities they cover, build relationships and establish credibility, and develop new sources of information.
Karen will, on occasion, post to multiple Facebook groups and solicit thoughts and opinions relevant to the story she is building. These outreaches, done in an open forum, gives her a glimpse into the different views a community might hold, which adds depth and perspective to the story.
Kathe takes advantage of social media to get the time-sensitive information out quickly and follows up with in-depth reporting in the weekly Cambrian. Often, her stories will feed into the broader Tribune ecosystem, where they link to similar events in neighboring communities. This timely local reporting is critical in an area where the threat of wildfire and other potential natural disasters is ever-present.
Benefits and Dangers
Each of the journalists also addressed the risky side of social media. They expressed concern that posts that may appear reliable and respectable may not be either, but rather opinion or propaganda disguised as news. Each cited examples of posts that were neither fact-checked or scrubbed for bias but were absorbed by readers as legitimate news sources.
Kathe muses, “It’s another way for a traditional journalist to keep in touch with the community, feeding news to them and tapping into what else is happening on his/her beat. Danger? When people automatically believe what they read online, without crosschecking with known, responsible media outlets.”
Joe adds, “The benefit is you can get informed about your community in all sorts of new ways. The danger is that many sources don’t follow professional standards. So they may tell you something that is partially true, but is it handled in a fully responsible and ethical way?”
As writers and reporters, each of the journalists recognizes that whatever outlet they use, the high standards they embrace in print must apply to every digital mark they make.
“News is an important way to preserve history,” Karen Garcia believes. “It gives a voice to underprivileged and under-served communities. It is motivating to know that there are people who trust you to tell the truth and present the facts. It’s a weight you carry as a journalist.”
Joe Tarica continues to believe in the importance of the First Amendment and the role of journalists. “The democratization of news has only made the role of professional news organizations more important, because not many people or places can invest the time, energy, and proper training, to tackle the most difficult and significant stories.”
As a long-time member of the community, people look to Kathe when things happen. They also see her as “the keeper of the scrolls” with an institutional memory that brings perspective to recurring hot-button topics. For Kathe Tanner, being a journalist for the community she has called home is both a joy and an obligation.
To hijack an old expression, “all news is local.” The people who do the hard work of keeping us informed about what is happening in our communities deserve both recognition and support. Without them and the organizations they represent, we might as well make up our own versions of history. They also need to be held accountable and connected to the communities. When they say “we want to hear from our viewers/readers/subscribers,” – believe them. Let them know what you think and what you need from them.
The good ones will always listen.