The hard, soft edges of community news

Published 5:03 pm Friday, July 14, 2023

In August of 2022, I interviewed for a general assignment reporter position with Greenville Newspapers, Inc. During the first conversation, a publisher asked the question, “What is your definition of a community newspaper.”

My answer came easily. A community newspaper publishes the stories of the communities it serves, highlighting local people, businesses, organizations, churches, schools, and events. From my perspective, a community newspaper came with all the warm and fuzzy connotations associated with telling the stories of Butler, Lowndes, and Crenshaw counties and the people who live within those communities.

In that respect, local coverage has been everything I imagined, with all the soft and comforting feelings I expected from the people and places I had known my entire life.

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I felt pride in writing about a “Let’s Talk History, Crenshaw” meeting where I met a distant cousin living nearby in Honoraville. It was exciting to introduce Lowndes County residents to retired State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) Special Agent Tony Green, when he joined the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. Attending the dedication ceremony of a historical marker at Butler County’s Searcy School awakened a new awareness of the community still working to keep its heritage alive.

But along with all the good news stories, came the others which were much harder to write.

In recent months, newspaper staff reporters worked together to cover “hard news” in a timely manner and to be a resource our communities could rely on for fast and accurate reporting.

Breaking news coverage carries with it the thrill of discovering something important and writing the news accurately for those concerned. It does also, however, include the weight of tragedy, crime, disaster, and sometimes even death, which is difficult to hear and to share.

There was the story of the Bush family in Butler County – a husband, wife, father, and brother convicted of murder for executing their own version of justice by taking the life of J.J. Mount. The news was bittersweet in a community of friends and family on both sides who waited to learn the outcome defined by the criminal justice system.

Another hard story came to our attention when a Lowndes County community member notified newspaper staff he had seen law enforcement clustered at a home early one morning. As the story unfolded, reporters learned Lowndes County Sheriff’s Investigators apprehended a dangerous man who left his victim injured at his own home.

Breaking the news felt exciting, except for knowing a victim lived with the trauma of what had happened to him.

Most recently, I crafted articles related to the death of a Crenshaw County woman killed in a two-vehicle, head-on collision. The news was hard to hear and harder to write. It was no less difficult as friends and family of the deceased struggled with the death and subsequent arrest, wanting to know current information while dealing with the pain reading it brought. Not all readers supported the newspaper for sharing the story quickly and others wondered why more information had not been made available sooner.

At the end of the day, community newspaper journalists find great satisfaction in highlighting the areas and people they serve and telling the feel-good stories. It is our greatest desire to write what local residents need and want to know in a manner which is accurate, interesting, and timely. 

We want to deliver the hard news too, to let community members learn of their own breaking news from their own local newspaper before they have to hear it from another larger media outlet.