|Al Smith, for whom the award was named, and Stevie Lowery|
Rural journalists have to educate, take stands, be watchdogs and be willing to lose friends, the winner of an award for public service through community journalism said as she accepted it Thursday night.
"Often times, newspapers have to take a stand on their opinion pages and state the obvious – something many people are afraid to do for one reason or another," said Stevie Lowery, editor and publisher of The Lebanon Enterprise, a Landmark Community Newspapers weekly. "In small towns, that can cost the newspaper staff a friend or two. But, at the end of the day, newspapers have a responsibility to be the watchdogs for their communities, for their country. It’s not always the most popular thing to do, but it needs to be done nonetheless."
Lowery won the Al Smith Award, given to Kentuckians by the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues of the University of Kentucky, publisher of The Rural Blog. She was cited for taking strong stands and tackling tough subjects: helping pass a school-tax increase, doing a five-part series on drugs in Marion County and doing stories on sex and gender issues.
After giving several examples of why "newspapers still matter" – local school issues, obituaries, public records, young athletes' photos, a story about a missing mother, news for "hometown soldiers stationed overseas" – Lowery explained why she followed in the footsteps of her late father, Steve Lowery, who was editor and publisher of the Enterprise.
"The newspaper helps people open their minds," she said. "I think it’s what I love the most about my job. At my small community newspaper, I have written stories about the first gay couple to legally adopt in our community, the first gay couple to legally marry in our county, and this year reporter Emily LaForme wrote about an amazingly brave transgender teenager – a story that will undoubtedly win awards. But, it’s not about the awards. That’s not why we do what we do. . . . We write these stories to educate people – to help them understand, to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts."