Saturday, December 06, 2008

Weekly doesn't shy from reporting on hard times

As the economy worsens and more people fall into dire straits, that's news. But in our experience, most rural newspapers shy away from enterprise reporting about hard times. Some are reluctant to shine the spotlight on neighbors; some think there's enough bad news already. But if a newspaper is to be what it should be, a mirror of the community, it needs stories like the one published in The Coalfield Progress of Norton, Va., this week.

"While many of us looked forward to sumptuous Thanksgiving feasts and holiday gift bargain shopping on Black Friday, others worried about simply getting enough food to fill their families’ bellies," Jeff Lester began his story about a surge in clients at the Wise County Food Bank. He didn't include material from any interviews with clients, but Melanie Lane took this photo of unidentified clients at the facility. (The paper often runs photos showing the Appalachian county's natural beauty.)

Lester reported that the food bank "could find itself hurting within a month," and told readers how they could donate. He gave the hours of the bank's two locations and its eligibility rules. (Read more; subscription may be required)

UPDATE, Dec. 8: The Progress was ahead of the curve. Today Michael Sluss and Rob Johnson of The Roanoke Times report that some area food banks are running out of food and may need state aid.

1 comment:

Jeff Lester said...

For what it's worth, I agonized over this photo for several days before publication — knowing that if I was a food bank client, no way would I agree to be photographed like this.

The shot is so intimate it's practically invasion of privacy (though the subjects agreed to be photographed). But the shot also wallops you between the eyes with a powerful message about hunger and hardship that doesn't depend on the story for context. I sought reactions from several folks in our newsroom, and we finally concluded that the photo's potential impact on getting more help for the hungry trumped other concerns.

Jeff Lester