Journalism: It’s about the people you serve

Madison Forsey, a sharp broadcast student at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, discovered an important truth about journalism the other day when she visited the News Reporter in Whiteville. She wasn’t expecting much when she pulled into the paper’s parking lot. Rural North Carolina. Small town. Print’s dying. You know the drill.

Then she walked in the door.

“It was buzzing. Full of friendly people working on everything from digital advertising content, to what would be in Thursday’s paper.  Each and every person had a smile on their face, and after sitting down with them and meeting almost the entire staff, I knew why.

“They love what they do. They believe in what they do, and who they do it for. They stressed that journalism should never be about the money, but about the people you serve.”

The people you serve. The people who work for a small-town newspaper know who they serve because they talk with them every day. When I was a practicing journalist, I admit that I sometimes forgot about those people. I got caught up in chasing the big story, or I followed the horse race rather than report the issues, or I got distracted by financial problems at the paper.

It’s appropriate that she learned that lesson in Whiteville, too, because she and another student went there to report a story about news deserts and how the News Reporter is swimming hard against the tide. Madison pulled together a wonderful story about the News Reporter, and Mary Glen Hatcher wrote about Smithfield, which lost its local paper two years ago.

Madison had the opportunity to talk with Les High, the publisher of the News Reporter, and he taught her a second vital lesson about journalism. “He said something I think should be plastered on the walls of every journalism school across the country: opinions are easy, but facts are hard.”

Serve your community and get the facts. Not a bad day’s lesson.

Read Madison’s entire post. And watch her broadcast piece.