Monday, October 30, 2017

How a small daily in Tenn. did its job when white nationalists and counter-protesters came to town

White nationalists at the rally. (T-G photo by William Mitchell)
When big news happens in small towns, national journalists often parachute in to cover it. But Terry Corrigan, editor of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette in Tennessee, says local papers can do a better job than the outsiders, Callum Borchers reports for The Washington Post.

Shelbyville, a town of about 21,000 south of Nashville, more famous as the site of the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, was the site of a white nationalist rally on Saturday, Oct. 28. Crowd counts are important in stories like this, and the Times-Gazette gave itself a wide berth: It reported that the rally crowd of 200 to 400 was outnumbered by 400 to 600 counter-protesters. The Tennessean of Nashville reported "about 160" and "more than 400," respectively.

The T-G prints six days a week, and Corrigan told Borchers its news staff consists of "four old white guys" with about 65 years of combined experience covering Shelbyville. And though it lacks the resources of national news media, the paper provided an impressive amount of in-depth coverage before, during and after the event, using angles and local sources that national reporters might never have thought of.

"I went down and ate breakfast at Barb’s diner [Thursday] morning at 5 a.m. to talk to the boys who are in there every morning,” Corrigan told Borchers. “That’s the kind of story we’ve been doing leading up to it, as much as we can.”

But Corrigan knew it was still important to defend his turf against national press. When he covered a wildfire for a small newspaper in Arizona in 2002, he remembered being frustrated that the police were "enamored" of big-name reporters and would take them to places where local media hadn't been allowed. So Corrigan talked to the Shelbyville police this week and asked them not to make the same mistake.

"I said: ‘Don’t do that to us. We are the ones you depend on week to week. If somebody’s done something bad, you want it in our paper, so maybe you can find ’em. Just remember we’re the ones that are here all the time.’ And they seemed okay. They understand," he told Borchers.

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