The changes to local newspaper newsrooms across the country have been written about ad nauseam. Here’s the CliffsNotes version of the obvious: There are a whole lot fewer journalists out there. And some newsrooms are small enough that their hometowns are now referred to in academic circles as “news deserts.”
There isn’t really a standard strategy to deal with these cuts, but the basics are that many are using “design hubs” to lay out many newspapers in a single place, as opposed to locally, while running similar pages across multiple markets. To that end, with local newsrooms getting smaller and smaller, editors tried different things.
One strategy is to mostly walk away from the traditional amount of mostly daily local stories and instead use the smaller staffs to write fewer stories, but focus in on larger investigative stories. The upside of that is important local stories that are impactful, but not nearly as many local stories from across their communities on a day-to-day basis.
And the judges of most journalism contests really, really love those sorts of stories. This is, by the way, why you tend to see so many long-form stories appear in December … just in time for contest deadlines.
That’s why the recent haul by our newsroom in some fairly notable contests was a bit of a pleasant surprise to some of us. It’s not that we don’t think that our newsroom isn’t worthy of the awards. It’s actually just the opposite. Pound for pound, there isn’t another newsroom in the nation that punches above its weight class like The Spokesman-Review does.
The surprise was that our newsroom doesn’t actively try to win awards. In fact, it’s kind of just the opposite. Our focus isn’t typically on huge enterprise stories that make judges swoon as much as it is making sure we have the most amount of daily local stories that make our readers swoon.
That’s not an overstatement. On most days of the week, this newspaper literally has the most amount of local stories of other newspapers across the nation in our peer group. We’ve counted.
That’s what made these wins all the more sweeter.
You all read our paper every day. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Molly Quinn is one of our community’s jewels, and the only thing more impressive than the quality of her illustrations that appear in The Spokesman-Review is how many of her illustrations appear in this newspaper.
Kathy Plonka won one of the most prestigious photo awards out there. For a weather photo. That accompanied a daily weather story. She shot something powerful enough to be named one of the top photos in the entire western part of this country, and it wasn’t even her only assignment that day.
You all have read Shawn Vestal’s columns. He was named the top columnist in this region by the Society of Professional Journalists for exactly what he does several times a week, every week of the year.
Megan Rowe received first place in that same contest for her powerful story about Rosalie Fish of Muckleshoot Tribal, who competed in the state track championships with a red handprint over her face and the letters MMIW on her right leg — which stood for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. News organizations around the world either ran Megan’s story or wrote their own version. But don’t forget where it appeared first.
And these are just a few of those who won. Turn to the next page and you’ll see the rest. Their work all deserved the praises it received from their peers.
What makes all of this even more interesting is the work of those in the background whose names rarely show up in our newspaper. Liz Kishimoto leads one of our industry’s last great local newspaper photo staffs. Jonathan Brunt and John Stucke combine to pull together one of the most in-depth, and incredibly strong, local news reports of any regional newspaper in the nation.
Carolyn Lamberson not only works to help our newsroom continually apply for grants across the nation so that we can expand our local journalism, she’s also the one who helps pull together the biggest stories that appear in our Sunday newspapers.
This past weekend, our evening editor — Ted McDermott — was literally shot by one of those crazy mini hockey puck-looking “non-lethal rubber bullets” used at the protests while he was in downtown Spokane to help our reporters and photographers in any way. You should see the mark it left, which looks totally gnarly and incredibly painful, even though he said it doesn’t hurt nearly as badly as it looks.
He’s not getting some plaque for that. Ted’s only reward is going to be some sort of permanent scarring.
Then there’s the leader of our copy desk, Lindsey Treffry. She’s as calm and cool as it gets. And a grammar ninja. Once you get out of grade school, there aren’t a lot of spelling bees for people like Lindsey to enter.
I could name so many more. This place is loaded with people like this – people who love to tell the stories of our community on a daily basis. And none of them do it to win any awards. It’s the furthest thing from their mind.
Which is what makes the awards our journalists have recently won all the more sweeter because none of them were trying to do anything other than document the living history of our community.
I hope you are as proud of all of these great local journalists as I am.
Local journalism is essential.
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