Student guest post: My experience at the Salisbury Post

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Savannah Morgan is a junior studying journalism and English. She is also a member of the piccolo section in the Marching Tar Heels and the Athletic Bands.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at The Salisbury Post as an intern. The paper serves Rowan County — a mostly rural county in the southwestern part of North Carolina.

Having the privilege to work at a functioning paper was a very good experience not only because I could take notes on what the paper did well, but also because I could learn from the paper’s problem areas. One of the struggles that I observed during my time at the Salisbury Post involved news judgment and news curation.

The editor and reporters at the Post felt it was important to serve each part of the diverse county equally. This involved giving each school (especially the high schools) in the county equal press time, reporting on things that rural readers would care about and reporting on things that readers in the more urban and suburban areas would find interesting. This included an article about the retirement of the local school system’s nutrition director one week and an article about the summer’s crops a few weeks later.

To combat the problem of giving all parts of the county equal coverage, the Salisbury Post also runs an interesting story series, which I was able to see in progress during my internship. The series is called The Dart, and the paper describes it like this: “The Dart is a regular feature that requires reporters to throw darts at a map of Rowan County and use the locations to find a story.”

Not only does this interesting story series allow reporters to give a voice to people who may not otherwise have ever been featured, but it also allows for a diverse blend of stories to come from diverse parts of the county. Although I never wrote a Dart story during my internship, I did find it fascinating to hear updates from the reporters as they looked for stories.

Another problem I observed during my internship dealt less with the Salisbury Post specifically and more with a general problem that I am sure many papers face. Keeping readers’ interests from week to week can be difficult—especially in the summer months, which I found were often slow for news. This problem can be heightened by the fact that it is often necessary to keep the same topic relevant for more than a few days or a week.

For example, the summer I was at the Salisbury Post, two people drowned in High Rock Lake in the eastern part of the county. After the initial stories about the drownings broke, the editor felt it was important to keep the story relevant.

So she had me to interview the head of the emergency department at the local hospital to learn more about drowning and then to speak with the head of the Rowan County Rescue Squad to learn what to do in a situation where someone might be in danger of drowning. After that story was written, the consensus from the newsroom was that High Rock Lake had been getting a bit too much bad press.

To balance our coverage of the lake, the editor assigned me a positive story about it. I wrote about the lake economy and the many ways the people of Rowan County enjoy the fun the lake has to offer. The two stories ended up running alongside each other.

Providing equal coverage for all of the readership area, choosing stories that interest all readers and keeping the readership interested are all problems that many small or local newspapers frequently face. My experience at the Salisbury Post working under the experience of the editor, Elizabeth Cook, and her staff helped me to learn how to combat these obstacles.