2013 Essay Contest - First Place Winner

The “Computerized” Correspondent: Local News Connects Community through Communication in a Digital Age

By Nora Faris, Concorda High School, Concorda Missouri

            High school student by day, journalist by night, Nora Faris fires up her 21st-century “printing press”—in other words, she turns on her computer. She sorts through social networking updates, e-mails containing articles from weekly contributors, and community press releases submitted by local organizations, compiling the assortment of information into this week’s edition of her rural town’s online newspaper. Videos of last night’s high school football game are uploaded, an interview with locals about the recent drought is posted, and advertisements by grocers and car dealerships are updated.

            Faris understands her role as a purveyor of community news—to transform the latest stories into conversations among citizens. An editorial about a recent candidate panel discussion will incite a new dialogue about the upcoming mayoral election among voters. The article about current crop prices will become the topic of choice in the coffee shops, where local farmers will communally confer about their prospects over their daily cups of joe. A review of the high school fall sports season will spark debates between athletes and community members alike over game highlights.

            “What is it that people seek through local news media? I think the citizen’s need for news can be summarized in one word: connection. Connection to their community, connection to their government, their culture, themselves,” Faris observes. “Local news is a source of familiarity for many in small towns like my own, where community members can contribute and make their own voices heard—a key aspect of democracy.”

            Living in a town where one printed newspaper dominated the scene for years, Faris developed an online news system to cater to a younger, “wired” generation. By integrating with social media networks, she created a brand for the news outlet—garnering feedback from readers and publicizing new stories. Accepting content from readers ensures that the online newspaper contains news both interesting and relevant to the audience.

            “Great local journalism is not a laundry list of events and happenings; it is a profile of a community—its people, its culture,” says Faris. “The bigger picture—national news, celebrities, and events—grasps the public’s attention momentarily, but the scenes they are surrounded with on a daily basis furnish a source of perpetual interest. Most people would expect the news culture in small towns to molder like an antique stack of newspapers, but the truth is, they are the future of journalism: a network of individual outlets, connecting communities and the country.”