Monday, July 17, 2017

Intern and editor at weekly respectfully stand their ground against criticism, get 'through to someone!'

Josh Qualls was having difficulty finding a source to help him explain how the House health-insurance bill might affect seniors on Medicaid in Lincoln County, Kentucky, where he just completed a summer internship with The Interior Journal in Stanford. So he went to the Boone Newspapers weekly's Facebook page.

"The very first response echoed some of the most disheartening, gut-wrenching rhetoric we’ve seen directed toward journalists in recent months. Its author offered a scathing indictment of the news media and accused us of being liberally biased," Qualls wrote in his intern report to the Kentucky Press Association, relying on memory because the poster had deleted the post. "She talked about how much 'Obamacare' didn’t help her health-hindered family, so I saw a way to connect with her."

Josh Qualls
Qualls wrote, “We appreciate your feedback … and we’re sorry to learn about your health problems and your family’s health-care situation. Our hearts go out to you.” He said no one at the newspaper "was happy with the Affordable Care Act allowing premiums to increase at an alarming rate," but said journalists must "seek the truth and report it," as the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics says.

“The truth, based on what we know about the American Health Care Act so far, is that these proposals may have long-term effects that are even more damaging than Obamacare,” Qualls posted. “The Congressional Budget Office reported last Wednesday that while premiums would likely decrease for younger Americans, older Americans would likely see a substantial increase and lose many of their benefits.”

Then he wrote this, which KPA highlighted in its report to members: “In this newsroom, we all have different political beliefs but respect each other. What we all have in common is that we’re biased against the things that harm the community we serve, and by community we mean people like you.” Those are lines to remember.

"The author quickly wrote back," Qualls reported to KPA. "She said that she never really thought about it that way and would consider what we wrote, that she appreciated our effort to connect with her and to explain what we were trying to accomplish." He and Editor Abigail Whitehouse, who had approved his message, "were ecstatic," yelling "We got through to someone!"

Though the reader soon deleted her post and the comments, Qualls said the episode showed the value of engaging with readers through social media: "People may think now that they have carte blanche to denigrate journalists, but Abigail taught me that we don’t have to cower in fear of what they might say or do — we must respectfully stand our ground. It simply comes down to this: People hate what they don’t understand, and some people unfortunately don’t understand journalists."

Qualls is a May graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media, which includes the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

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