The killings of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, have shocked the nation this week. The shooter was driven by racist beliefs to enter the historically black church, participate in a Bible study and then gun down his victims. He was captured the next day in Shelby, North Carolina.
Most North Carolina newspapers had the story on their front pages on Friday, with one notable exception: the Herald-Sun in Durham. It published a story about the shootings on page 7A.
Ostensibly, the reason for the story’s placement is that the news from Charleston is “not local” to the paper’s readers. The Herald-Sun places a heavy emphasis on news of Durham and nearby Chapel Hill on its front pages. News of the nation and world appears on inside pages.
Charleston is about 300 miles from Durham. But “local” is not simply geographic. It can also be political, historical and cultural.
Durham has a prominent place in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It is the home of N.C. Central University, a historically black school. Race continues to be an important topic in the city.
Those characteristics about Durham connect the city to the Charleston shootings. To its credit, the Herald-Sun did publish a story about the killings on its front page on Saturday, focusing on reaction in Durham.
Proximity has long been an important news value, as it should be. But editors at the Herald-Sun and other news organizations should keep in mind that “local” can mean more than mileage on a map.