This article appeared in the November 22, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Lessons from a shuttered newsroom

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Monitor correspondent Laurent Belsie interviews corn and bean farmer Chad Christianson post-flood, on April 2, 2019, in Fremont, Nebraska.

Today’s stories explore the portent of the dramatic impeachment hearings, the underlying tensions fueling a doctors’ strike in Zimbabwe, the decision to leave valuable assets buried underground in the Netherlands, an effort to help foster children feel at home, and the power of scripture as an art form.

But first, a look at journalism history – my own. I’ll never forget the day my city editor pulled me aside with a piece of advice. It was 1979 in Michigan – my first college internship at a newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot. “Local journalism is where you can make a difference,” he said. Two years later, I chucked his advice and joined the Monitor.

While reporting in Michigan this fall, I returned to Jackson to see what had happened in 40 years. I was saddened to find the Citizen Patriot building boarded up. Now owned by MLive Media Group, the Cit Pat is smaller, like Jackson itself, and more digital than print. The publication’s website lists four reporters.

What has that meant for local news? “It’s more democratic,” says John Burtka, a local restaurateur. In newspapers’ heyday, restaurants worked hard to influence the local food critic. Now, they rely on customers’ online reviews. 

Today’s MLive reporters are more prolific and efficient than we were. But “those stories are more surface-level,” says Mayor Derek Dobies. 

Of course, the story I remember most vividly wasn’t particularly deep, either: A state trooper’s police dog had won an award. I quickly learned how intimate journalism could be – the trooper was so excited during my interview and revealed so much about himself that I felt this heavy responsibility to tell his story with fairness and cleareyed compassion.

So maybe my old city editor was onto something: We can have a big impact by going local, not in a geographical sense necessarily, but by making connections, one-on-one, exposing humanity as well as news, no matter where we are or what form – digital or print – our stories take.

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This article appeared in the November 22, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 11/22 edition