Editors and reporters are facing some of their biggest challenges in gathering news during the pandemic. Access to everyday sources is increasingly limited with no relief on the horizon.
Reporters no longer can walk into offices unannounced, and appointments are restricted. Remote work remains the norm at many places.
My days of sitting behind an editor’s desk have passed, but I’ll never lose my newspaper blood. I regularly enjoy my first cup of coffee while scanning newspaper websites. It’s a great way to keep current on what’s happening and being talked about in communities from International Falls to Worthington, Moorhead to Duluth – in rural and metro landscapes alike.
Some headlines on this particular day.
Election season is in its final stretch, and newspapers have been there at every step. You’ve introduced candidates. You’ve quizzed them on the issues. You’ve covered the debates. Your coverage has laid the foundation for a rich exchange among readers on who they support or oppose – and why.
Everyday news reports are filled with statistics as COVID-19 continues to dominate headlines.
The number of individuals who have tested positive and those who have died of the coronavirus. Patients hospitalized and those in ICU. Confirmed cases broken down by gender, ethnicity and county of residence. The tally of businesses that have closed. The rising unemployment totals. Terms of financial assistance programs available at federal, state and local levels. Bankruptcy and foreclosure totals.
Minnesota is in the spotlight following the recent death of a black man during a police arrest. Racial unrest has erupted everywhere and forced all institutions and organizations – everyone –to examine attitudes toward and treatment of minorities.
A publisher once asked how I defined aggressive reporting. During my tenure at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, we considered it our badge of honor. If someone threw up roadblocks to information we considered pertinent to our readers, we doubled and tripled our efforts – and usually were successful.
Digital platforms go a long way toward leveling the playing field among daily and nondaily newspapers. Even the smallest of newsrooms can compete with their larger counterparts by posting news as it happens, and then directing readers to print editions for more complete reports.
The coronavirus pandemic is dominating headlines, generating stories on issues touching nearly every aspect of lives.
Reports addressing the health and safety of citizens are obviously center stage. At the same time, the pandemic has spawned a range of stories focusing on our worksites – the places we earn a paycheck as employees and purchase products and services as consumers. Business lockdowns and restrictions have redefined commerce and reshaped daily routines.
A fire chief was suspended without pay after taking his nephew, and another firefighter off his shift, for a joy ride on the city’s fire boat. The city agreed to not voluntarily report the disciplinary action to the newspaper.
When is the last time readers said they were misquoted in a story? Or called to say they’re pleased with a story but irritated by a headline? Or took issue with how their ideas and statements were presented in a story?
Who is Jim Pumarlo?
Community newspapers, at their best, are stewards of their communities. The news columns are a blend of stories that people like to read and stories they should read. The advertising columns promote and grow local commerce. And the editorial pages are a marketplace of ideas.
Jim Pumarlo understands that energized newspapers are at the foundation of energized communities. His message is straightforward: Community newspapers – whether delivering information in the print or on the Web – must focus on local news if they are to remain relevant to their readers and advertisers.
You’re welcome to reprint these columns with the appropriate tagline:
Jim Pumarlo writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers,” “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage.” He can be reached at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.