Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Veteran editor and reporter offers advice on how to get local stories from national stories

"Finding local stories in national and international news isn’t always easy. But many big stories have local angles, and the news organizations that make the effort can tell important local stories that the community will be talking about," veteran editor and reporter Steve Buttry writes on his blog, The Buttry Diary.

"The local people with personal ties to these stories don’t appear in the places you routinely find news," Buttry says. "You won’t hear these stories on the scanner or see them on agendas or police blotters. But they are the biggest news of the day, sometimes the biggest of the year, in small circles of your community. And you often can learn of the stories with a few calls or social media inquiries," or crowdsourcing.

Steve Buttry
Buttry acknowledges, as part of an online debate with Howard Owens, editor of The Batavian in New York state, that the "size of the story, size of your community and size of your staff all make a difference in pursuing and finding local connections. . . . A bigger staff can devote more staff time to pursuing local connections to national news."

That caveat established, Buttry offers many examples of localization: "A local college or university has experts on national and international topics as well as exchange students from nations that might be in the news. . . . A military base also might have units deployed abroad and people who have been stationed in countries in the news. Or individual troops from your community might be involved in a military story. . . . Your local Red Cross or Salvation Army might be sending volunteers to assist in disaster relief ... or local religious groups might be helping victims of a distant disaster. . . . A large local company might have national experts in some of the topics related to its business." He suggests using LinkedIn's advanced people search engine to look for local experts and connections.

One obvious angle is the local impact of big national stories. "Many national stories play out in each community, providing powerful local stories," Buttry writes, using his coverage of Omaha-area connections to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing when he was a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald. He was named editor of the year in 2010 by Editor & Publisher for his work as editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and is now director of student media at Louisiana State University.

Localizing national stories is sometimes best done with data. "When Bill Clinton was trying to start a national conversation on race in 1997, I used local, state and national data to show how different life was, in nearly every respect, for black and white people in Omaha, Iowa, Nebraska and nationally," Buttry writes. "That story would be much easier today with much of the data you’d need readily available online."

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