News isn’t the same news anywhere you go

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user NS Newsflash)

This is one of those “I started this in the middle of the night, Jamie needs to process her thoughts kind of blogs.” I share it only because through the years I’ve had folks take an interest in the various forms of news writings I’ve had the opportunity to do. If you actually make it through this whole blog you deserve a gold star AND a cookie!

In my years as a journalist, I’ve written news for seven different news publications and various feature publications. Each one has had its own flair, its own focus.

Just to help my own brain, here’s a list of the news jobs I’ve had:

  1. Threefold Advocate-this is the student newspaper at John Brown University, my alma mater. I was the editor my senior year. This paper writes about all things JBU including student life, sports, academics and culture. We rarely wrote about events happening in the Siloam Springs community unless it specifically would be of interest to a large number of the students. My primary beat was covering the Student Government Association but I wrote about just about anything!
  2. Andover Journal Advocate-this was the local newspaper for the town of Andover, Kansas. It’s where I did my summer internship during college. Your basic small-town paper, it covered schools, some county news and events happening around town. It was a family-owned paper and has since shut down from what I understand. I was very part time and only wrote general assignment stories and a few business and education stories. I also did the paper’s layout all summer.
  3. Miami News-Record-the local paper for Miami, Oklahoma. It covered all of Ottawa County with the focus being Miami. Tribal news, city and county news, sports, community events, etc. were the primary focus. I technically had beats, but was responsible for so much that I considered myself “general assignment.” Primarily, I covered city and schools for 3-4 communities, highway renovations, county news (but not the sheriff’s office or courts), Native American issues and community events. I also had to write a weekly column, which was interesting because I wasn’t allowed to comment on anything I wrote about in the news department, but the older readers didn’t like getting life advice from a young 20-something so I sometime struggled to find something to say!
  4. Benton County Daily Record-the paper that covers Benton County. It’s a part of a larger conglomerate that covers NWA and at the time I was there, it only focused on Benton County. I covered education there with the occasional general assignment. Sometimes we would write about McDonald County, Missouri if it affected our county.
  5. First Arkansas News-this online publication covers real estate news and other business or culture news that might be of interest to people throughout Arkansas. I created a series called Arkansas Author that featured authors living in the Natural State. I also wrote about grants, community events and other stuff I could find to write about when I had time. This was a volunteer project that I enjoyed doing because it helped further the idea of digital journalism and I enjoyed having a much broader news focus after eight years of a very specific focus.
  6. Washington County Observer-this very local paper covered south Washington County with the focus being on Greenland, Winslow and West Fork. We only ran news that would interest people of those communities. I covered the Washington County Quorum Court and a few general assignment stories.
  7.  The City Wire-this entirely online publication covers business, culture and the arts (generally) for the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas regions. I write about XNA, NWACC, Washington County government and a growing number of stories ranging from child abuse-related issues to innovative business stories.

 News targets

Every business has a target audience. News publications have a target audience, but they also have a target news coverage.  It helps define what they will and will not cover. It tells both the staff and the readers what they can expect to find and what they will not expect to find. It isn’t a way of saying that the other news isn’t important, it’s a way of specializing in what the target audience most wants to read and becoming an expert in those areas instead of spreading too thin by trying to hit too many targets.

 

A publication’s news target drives what gets covered, but also how it gets covered.

One example is how certain events are covered. Most people cover fundraisers as a social event, but as the ed reporter for the Daily Record, I wrote about the NWACC Foundation Gala as a “furthering education” style of story.

Another perfect example is covering the same beat for publications that have drastically different news targets. I covered the Washington County Quorum Court for the Observer and now for the City Wire. Previously, I focused on what would be of interest to just the three towns that the Observer covers. Now, I write about issues that have a business angle or have a broad appeal to the entire county and NWA region. One time I remember covering a meeting for the Observer and the competition led with news about county buildings in Fayetteville but I focused on the growing stray dog problem in rural Washington County because that’s what people in those towns would care about.

Why this matters to me

It might seem weird to need to process this and to write about. OK, I admit, it’s weird. But for someone who has a career in this field, writing for a new audience means a new mindset, a freshening of the mind and a new focus. In a way, with each change of target news audience I feel like I’ve learned something about the craft, learned something about my ability to adapt. Growth and change is one of the focuses of this blog so it feels important to share.

I’d be interested to hear from other writers/journalists who have drastically changed in their news coverage based on the publication for which they were writing. What was it like to make the change and how has it helped you increase your skills?

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