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Who is the caretaker of your local newspaper?

Christa Wilson/TCCJ Staff

The warmup of summer has just begun during the first sighting of June.

School is out, but not for everyone. One classroom at the University of Texas in Austin was filled and bustling with ideas last week.

June 1-3 marked the calendars of many newspaper professionals, a crash course, and an opportunity for networking and sharing ideas.

These were the dates that the Texas Center for Community Journalism kicked off its Newspaper Management Bootcamp.

There were more than 30 participants at this year’s session. They represented papers from all over, some within the state, and some as far as Minnesota.

Gathering from all age groups and diverse backgrounds, they traveled to Austin. One thing brought them all together, a deep love and commitment for community journalism.

So, who are these people that write about the events in your communities week in and week out?

What are some of the problems that they overcome in their day-to-day jobs?

If you’d like to know the answers to these questions, read on.

What are some of the challenges that Community Newspaper Professionals face?

One of the battles that newspaper employees face is the fight to keep the papers expanding and growing. As technology continues to advance, newspaper owners and managers must collaborate and find new ways to grow and adapt.

The importance and necessity of community journalism has not changed, but the way that we consume our information has.

“It’s not tough times for the newspapers, it’s different times. How can we navigate and embrace these different times?” Austin Lewter, Director of the Center said.

This can be accomplished by “embracing the mundane,” said Lewter.

Diversity and inclusion are some additional important issues. There was also a discussion regarding the need for proper representation in newsrooms as well as in the stories journalists cover.

Alesia Woolridge, Juwan Lee and Soya Roberts-Woods participated in a panel discussion to address how the industry can bring more diversity into newsrooms.

Some very powerful and thought-provoking points were brought up.

The consensus was to hire people from various ethnicities and backgrounds as starting point to solving this problem.

The topic of trauma and covering traumatic events was also addressed. Listening to several discussions, I learned about the struggle that reporters and journalists face when covering tragedies.

There was an immense level empathy, care, concern and attentiveness involving this topic.

Sometimes local reporters may personally know the people involved in these catastrophic events, which can make reporting on them immensely difficult.

There was the ever-present dilemma between discretion and concern for the families involved, versus the need to inform citizens and the public about the incidents.

I overheard several people talk about their struggle with such issues and how it affected them both mentally and emotionally.

These are just a few of the dilemmas that community journalism professionals face on a daily basis.

These issues affect everyone differently and some make it their mission to find solutions to the problems.

Who are they?

They are pioneers.

Woolridge has some major accomplishments under her belt.

These include, being the first African American managing editor of two separate newspapers and later becoming the first African American publisher of both of those papers.

They have amazing stories.

Hugh Lewis of the Jefferson Jimplecute has interviewed some of the world’s most prominent political figures throughout his career.

This list includes, President Bill Clinton, President Barak Obama and Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to name a few.

They are writers, authors and businesspeople.

They need to be everything short of lawyers to keep up with liable and copyright laws.

“Every time you publish a story, you are taking a chance that you will get sued,” Dr. Chip Stewart said.

Stewart is an attorney, professor and former editor, who specializes in media law.

I learned this week that community journalists are the know-alls and be-alls of the business, yet still modest enough to scoop up trash next to the intern.

They are researchers and academics.

Jim Moser manages 32 community newspapers and is the equivalent of a data analyst.

He is working on an important research project with Kathleen McElroy, Iris Chyl, Christian McDonald and Christopher Assaf.

McElroy is the Director of the UT School of Journalism.

She also worked at the New York Times for 20 years.

Their project focuses on the vitality of community newspapers and planning for the future.

They are representatives.

They write stories on issues that are import to the community. They stand up for what they believe in and report stories that speak out on important issues like bullying, city council policies and racial inclusion, to name a few.

They are teachers and mentors.

Lewter inspires leadership by coordinating and bringing events like this one to life. He serves as the Director of the Center for Community Journalism.

He is also a newspaper owner and professor who helps mentor students by introducing them to community journalism and potential employers.

They are spectators.

They keep a watchful eye on the communities and its citizens. They are there to witness the outcome of your child’s sports games and their triumphs week in and week out.

These are just a few examples of what some of the journalists in your communities do, on top of keeping the public informed about what takes place every day.

This list could go on.

As I learned this week, the takeaway is that these individuals bring so much more to the tables of your communities than just local news.

They are invaluable members of your cities and towns. They are hidden leaders, whose job it is to be as unnoticeable as possible.

So, the next time you see your local paper’s journalist, reporter, editor or owner (yes, they do all the above), out in your community working hard to keep a watchful eye, maybe offer a quick thank you.

Just a little spec of advice from an intern who knew nothing about community newspapers six months ago.

I have since gained a serious dose of humility from shadowing these individuals and learning the secret identities of your local, friendly, neighborhood journalists.

Christa Wilson graduated from Tarleton State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She served as a student intern for the Texas Center for Community Journalism in her last semester as an undergrad.  

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Front Page Future of news

Let them print

The students studying journalism at Texas A&M University could have a valuable tool hampered by that school’s administration.

Taking away the print product produced by The Battalion’s staff by TAMU Pres. M. Katherine Banks, who at her own admission didn’t get why a paper newspaper matters, seems shortsighted.

“I’m not a professor of journalism; I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field,” The Battalion quoted Banks saying.

None of the journalism professors who work with the paper were asked for their input, according to the staff report.

Why ask an expert you trust to teach your students for their thoughts before making a sweeping announcement that you’re altering a paper that’s over 100 years old?

When I got to the University of North Texas, I had big plans for my future in journalism.

I was going to double-major in journalism and international studies and a minor in Spanish with the intention of becoming a foreign correspondent.

War had been in the news since Sept. 11, 2001. I graduated from high school in May 2007.

My history and language courses were filled with lessons about the difficulties people in third-world countries faced.

Plus, I wanted to do something that made a big impact on the world.

When I got to UNT, the way I wanted to immerse myself in the journalism world was to work for the North Texas Daily.

My professors helped us understand the value and impact our reporting could have when done well.

I got to practice my skills at news reporting, leadership, opinion writing, copy editing and various other aspects of working at a newspaper.

My work there helped me land an internship at the Dallas Morning News and led directly to the work I did with the Community Impact Newspaper after I graduated.

I’m grateful life took a turn from my aspirations of being a foreign correspondent to working for this local newspaper with a young family, but the work I do is still important. Without the practical experience I got at the Daily, I would have been lost in the transition to the work force.

The Daily was a laboratory with real accountability for any mistakes I or my fellow journalists made.

It was also a place where we as student journalists worked next to professional journalists, both still in the field and on the college’s staff.

Those professors would mercilessly tear apart our work with literal red marks coating the printed page, telling us how we could improve.

I still remember many of those comments as well as the tiny drawings in the white space that we left bare.

If such a major change is going to happen to a university newspaper, it should be done with the input and direction of the stakeholders who understand the stakes.

On Wednesday, Banks indicated that she might be changing her mind, in large part to the response to her decision.

“I care deeply about journalism at Texas A&M,” she said to The Battalion. “The reaction to this plan makes it clear that I should seek additional community feedback on the role of The Battalion and the rebuilt Department of Journalism, while also getting feedback about industry trends and future workforce needs.”

I commend her for taking the feedback, and criticism, she received and being willing to re-evaluate her decision. I hope that keeps the paper printing for years to come.

Abigail Allen is the Managing Editor editor of the Pilot Point Post-Signal. She can be reached at aallen@postsignal.com.

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Front Page

Celebrating Black History Month: Woolridge is a leader in her community

Alesia Woolridge continues to make history as one of the few African American newspaper publishers in Texas.

She first made history in 2014 when she became the first African American Managing Editor of The Eagle Lake Headlight.

Eagle Lake is located in Colorado County, about an hour west of Houston.

The newspaper dates back to the 1890s.

Woolridge served as Managing Editor there until February 2016, when she accepted the same position at The Colorado County Citizen in Columbus.

She was the first African American Managing Editor there as well.

The Colorado County Citizen started publishing in 1857.

Woolridge purchased The Eagle Lake Headlight in August 2017 and became the first African American newspaper publisher in Colorado County.

That purchase also made her one of only a handful of African American newspaper publishers in the state who is not producing niche content geared toward the African American community.

In June 2020, Woolridge made history again when she returned to The Colorado County Citizen to serve as publisher.

She was the first African American to lead the county’s newspaper in its 163-year history.

“I’m the first, but I won’t be the last,” Woolridge said. “I will continue to do my best to make The Citizen the most diverse, inclusive news sources in this county, region and state.”

Woolridge is an award-winning writer.

She has won several journalism awards from the Texas Press Association, among other organizations.

She continues to serve her community through her leadership at The Citizen.

Woolridge also serves as a Fine Arts volunteer and mentor for cadets at the Rice Campus of Texas Challenge Academy.

She also volunteers with a journalism class at Rice High School. There, she mentors students on the importance of effective communication skills, telling stories with photography and finding their voice through writing.

Woolridge publishes weekly columns written by TCA cadets in The Citizen.

Her work with TCA helping students once at risk of dropping out of school discover a love for reading and writing has earned her local and statewide recognition.

According to Woolridge, the TCA campus unique in its relationship with their local newspaper.