Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rural reporting leads in Mirror Awards nominations for digital stories about the news media

Four of the six finalists for best digital-media article in Syracuse University's Mirror Awards for reporting on the news media focused on rural reporting. The winner will be announced at the June 5 ceremony in New York City. Here's a look at each of the four.

Joplin Globe photographer Roger Nomer took this photo
the day of the storm.  It was broadcast around the world
and appeared on Page 1 of The New York Times.
Bret Schulte, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas, was nominated for his compelling May 2012 Columbia Journalism Review piece, "This is my paper. This is my town," which looked  at the impact of the devastating 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., through the eyes of the people who work for The Joplin Globe. Despite their personal losses, employees felt a deep commitment to their jobs and their community, and showed up to work to continue reporting the news, and to keep the community informed about the disaster. The EF5 tornado had winds topping 200 m.p.h., and wiped out 25 to 30 percent of Joplin, demolishing 8,000 structures.

Globe reporters continued producing stories, including a first-person account of losing one's home, and enterprise editor Scott Meeker used social media to make contact with community members, Schulte writes. Meeker said, "We were flooded with questions from people on Facebook asking if loved ones were okay," which led to the creation of a separate Facebook page called Joplin Tornado Survivors, a forum for worried residents. In less than three hours it had 6,000 followers. Here is our May 2011 item on the Globe's work, which won it the Local Media Association's award for best small, local paper. Editor Carol Stark was named best local editor.

The storm coverage by the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. paper brought it closer to the community. “What this did was to re-validate our value in our community,” publisher Mike Beatty said. “We were able to identify the kind of thing they wanted to know: Where can they get shelter? Where can they get funds? Where is their help, and who died? Because we’re a community newspaper, we knew who to call and who to talk to. And people were coming to us and giving us information. It was a two-way street. It enhanced our relationship with our readers and our community.” (Read more)

Doug Crews, Beth Pike, Stephen Hudnell and Scott Charlton were also nominated for reporting about The Joplin Globe's response to the tornado, producing a 59-minute video for the Missouri Press Association. Its website says: "In the tornado aftermath, The Globe offers its readers a chance to mourn their community and learn how it will rebuild.  Reporters examine their role as community watchdog and residents see their newspaper as a vital source for local news and moving forward.  Much like the hard-rock miners who settled Joplin in its early years, the long hours, difficult working conditions, and uncovering of stories from the disaster continues for The Joplin Globe." (Read more)

Another nomination went to Chris Robbins and Sue Mende of the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York for their story, "An udder mess: How the Atlantic got it all wrong in St. Lawrence County," a story that detailed how the small-town newspaper took on the big-city magazine the Atlantic, calling the magazine on its attempt to concoct an online story essentially alleging that new agribusiness locating in St. Lawrence County are hurting the Amish community to the point that some Amish are digging through trash for food and many families are leaving the community. 

The local paper exposed the Atlantic's poor reporting. It turned out the Atlantic reporter interviewed just one person, a man he had known since they were teenagers, and admitted to the Atlantic reporter that he had biased views. Despite that, the reporter still based his story on one person's opinion. We reported on the episode in September.

The Atlantic article was also filled with factual errors, such as using the term "synthetic manure," a which doesn't exist, Robbins and Mende write. Times managing editor Robert D. Gorman said: “The writer didn't know the difference between bail and bale, teats and udders, DePeyster and Canton. Despite acknowledging his factual errors, his editors are still convinced he methodically unraveled an incredibly complex socioeconomic trend in regional farming. I have told them he got that wrong, too, but to no avail.” When questioned by the Times, the Atlantic stood behind its story, and their reporter refused to be interviewed." (Read more)

The other nomination is for Joe Strupp's story for MediaMatters, "How a right-wing group is infiltrating state news coverage." He described  how some media outlets created by the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity write stories based on the organization's own interests, even using facts and quotes from the organization to fuel the story in an attempt to get legislation passed or denied, and to influence readers one way or the other. The organization claims to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the U.S., Strupp writes. Many rural newspapers use the reports; we first reported on the Franklin Center in 2011.

Strupp used a recent example of the outlets' attempt to influence people, highlighting how did six stories in one week arguing against legislation to ban access to commercial tanning beds by minors, with five of the stories quoting the organization's parent company, the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Strupp writes, "The website's coverage of the tanning issue clearly figured into the Idaho Freedom Foundation's efforts to stop the measure and protect that industry's business owners." (Read more)

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