Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Site creates connections between rural and urban journalists

By Al Cross, Director and Professor
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

It's an old professional practice for reporters from cities to ask for help from local journalists when they "parachute" into small, unfamiliar communities – and a common courtesy for the hometown journalists to help out. When I was a rural editor in Kentucky, I was always glad to help reporters from the Louisville Courier Journal; when I became a CJ regional reporter and then political writer, I often sought, and invariably got, local journalistic help.

But that doesn't always happen. Sometimes urban reporters are reluctant to make a cold call, sometimes for fear of sending a warning signal that can hinder their reporting. Sometimes, rural journalists may be suspicious of a visiting journalist's agenda, or chagrined that the visitor is working on a deeper, perhaps tougher, version of a story they've been covering. Now it's getting easier for help-seeking urban journalists and helpful rural journalists to connect, thanks to a new online database called Shoe Leather.

On the very simple site, local journalists list their names, towns, primary and secondary beats and social-media information, and visitors can search by those terms. "Since it was announced on Twitter in late September, more than 400 reporters representing all 50 states have registered," Matthew Sedacca reports for The New York Times, citing the site's founder and manager, Sarah Baird.

Baird, a widely published freelancer based in Richmond, Ky., told Sedacca that the site addresses a problem beyond individual stories and journalists: "As local news organizations have been decimated by layoffs and industry consolidation, communities across the country have complained that journalists who come into their towns and cities too often produce shallow or misrepresentative reporting," Sedacca writes. "Local journalists who know their hometowns could report the same stories more accurately and with more depth," Baird and others say.

Sarah Baird (Photo by Jessica
Ebelhar for New York Times)
“These stories cause actual consequences for these communities, not only in how the nation perceives them, but how they perceive themselves,” Baird told him.

And sometimes those stories get told too late. Christina Smith of Georgia College and State University, who specializes in community journalism, told Sedacca that Shoeleather could highlight subjects that would otherwise go uncovered. Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that has placed reporters in local newsrooms, agreed. “If there had been earlier coverage of the opioid problem and a better connection between national and local media, we would have seen this as a national problem sooner,” he told Sedacca.

Baird told Secdacca that she is funding the project herself and hopes to add employees, by turning the site into a resource hub with paid memberships. "Paying would give someone access to benefits like Shoeleather-organized journalism workshops or conferences," Sedacca writes. Baird told him, “The plan is always be around. To be a resource.”

No comments: