After last Friday’s column on the importance of journalism, Bulletin reporter Steve Nash sent me a witty message. He feigned disappointment that I didn’t mention him. We’ve had this ongoing joke about being mentioned in each other’s columns — back when Steve still wrote one.
While my column didn’t mention him, it most definitely could have.
Within the term “journalism” lies an important segment where Nash and his colleagues at this newspaper live and work. It is also where I labored all my 40-plus years in the industry. It’s known as community journalism.
Community journalism doesn’t prioritize coverage of national politics or natural disasters thousands of miles away — unless those events directly involve someone from, or someone known by, local residents. Instead, local news takes precedence.
National and international events can and do affect each of us where we live, but consumers have multiple options for such coverage, from sources that are staffed to do them justice. Meanwhile, community journalism focuses on how such events affect us locally.
Community journalism’s first obligation is to report news that no other news agency will cover. I’ve come to understand during all these years in this business — most of that in Brownwood — that no news source cares more about what happens in Brown County than your hometown media. And now, six years after retiring from fulltime duties here, I continue to believe that nobody does it better than your hometown newspaper. For most of you reading this, that source is the Brownwood Bulletin.
One recent example of this came after North Korea announced it had the capability of striking the U.S. mainland with a nuclear missile. One 24-hour cable news channel showed how front pages of newspapers from around the country played the claim that North Korea could launch nuclear warheads and hit America’s mainland. Newspapers in a series of major metropolitan cities featured banner headlines. Then, the anchor produced another front page from a significantly smaller Midwest city, and its top story was an analysis of what a proposed municipal bond issue would accomplish and how much it would cost taxpayers.
If missiles had been launched, it would have affected everyone. But looking back now, the bond election was more important to readers in that city than an international news story that had been the primary topic of television and internet news for hours before those newspapers hit the streets.
The North Korea story wasn’t ignored. An Associated Press report was prominent on an inside “national news” page. Community newspapers across the nation did the same thing.
That’s been the philosophy of the Bulletin for more than three decades. Local news dominates — and usually saturates — the front page, and much of the rest of the paper as well. In recent years, many larger newspapers have adopted what has come to be called “hyper-local” coverage to remain relevant in an era of instantaneous digital news. The Bulletin was “hyper-local” before “hyper-local” was a thing.
You want coverage of your high school’s sports? You want to know what happened at the city council meeting? You want a story to explain your charity’s fund-raiser? You’ve turned to the right place.
So, when you see the bylines of Derrick Stuckly, Steve Nash, Jimmy Potts, and others in the Bulletin, you know they are your eyes and ears in this community. They are writing stories and taking pictures that are special to you. That’s community journalism.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.