KATIE ZERR: Community input plays an important role


We in the newspaper business try and keep up with information technology as it races through our lives at warp speed. We must also remember that people play a very important role in community journalism.

As a community newspaper, we strive to give our readers the news they need, the entertainment they want and the information necessary to keep up with what is happening in the city, school and other important issues.

We depend on the people who live here to give us tips, story leads and to let us know what how they are feeling on issues.

We make mistakes, but hopefully we go back and correct those mistakes.

One of the mistakes we made in the past year was to not accept letters to the editor from our local residents who want to endorse candidates in our school and city elections 90 days prior to the election.

That is not how community newspapers work. Letters endorsing local candidates are important in elections and will now be accepted if they meet the parameters of our letters to the editor policy.

We want our readers to feel that they are an important part of this paper and that their opinions matter.

University of North Carolina journalism professor Jock Lauterer, who was a speaker at the 2002 South Dakota Newspaper Association convention, brought to the forefront the importance of community input in the local paper in a column he wrote. This is his list of the top rules for community journalists.

• A community newspaper is not just a smaller version of a big-city paper.

• Regardless of who you’ve been told owns your newspaper; your paper’s true owner is the community.

• The doors of your newspaper should be just as open as the doors of the homes, offices and meeting rooms of the people you expect to cover.

• The purpose of your paper is to serve your community – pure and simple.

• Your mantra is “Local, local, local,” followed by “All stories are local.”

• Your job title is only a beginning. Don’t take it too literally.

• You don’t have to wait until you get to the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated or National Geographic to do your best work. You can do it now.

• You may not get rich, but your psychic pay will be enormous.

• Small is beautiful. Believe it – don’t wish it away.

• Everybody has/is a story.

• Every story will lead to another story. It’s all connected. Just pay attention and trust.

• The “middle of nowhere” is the center of someone else’s universe.

• When journalists say, “There’s nothing going on here,” they’re really telling you about the space between their ears.

As part of a small town newspaper we learn that the impact journalism can have on a community is a lesson best learned at the root of that paper.

We need to connect with our readers. We need to learn the power of our words, of the words of our community.

We have a responsibility to listen to those we seek out and to those who seek us out.

We have no doors that close our readers out. If you want face-to-face time with us, let us know and we will make the time.

We are accountable to our readers because they are our friends, neighbors and colleagues.

If you don’t tell us when we mess up, we think we are doing the right thing and do not make changes.

A backlash on the new letters policy was expected, but when only one or two readers objected, it became a moot issue.

Remember, if you disagree with issues that directly relate to our community, let us know.

Our letters section is your opportunity to voice an opinion, but remember that letters that attack others or businesses or are affirmations of personal beliefs are not acceptable.

It is the community’s newspaper and we want the community to take a more active role in its content.

– Katie Zerr –

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