Student guest post: Changing the world through community journalism

voice2019
Members of the spring 2019 staff of the Durham VOICE.

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the third of those posts. Spencer Carney is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill who is double-majoring in reporting and creative writing. She hopes to work as either an editor or a reporter for a community newspaper after graduation.

I never wanted to be a journalist or even a writer in general. In fact, I adamantly protested against it. Both my father and my oldest sister graduated through the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, but I wanted to make my own destiny.

My first year trying to do just that was a flaming disaster that would’ve found me in the academic advising office trying to drop out by the end of the second semester. However, in reviewing my first year, I realized that the only two classes I had enjoyed were the two English classes I’d taken.

I let my parents talk me into taking a basic journalism class the next semester. By the end of this semester, I will have completed a reporting major at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Why does reporting matter? Why does community journalism matter? Doesn’t everyone just get their news online now anyway?”

People have asked me these questions since I declared my reporting major.

“Our system rests on citizens’ ability to make discriminating judgments about policies and politicians. Without the news, information and analysis that the media provides, this would be impossible,” said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, in an article published by the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

In their book “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel define the principles and purpose of journalism “by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people.”

This semester, I am taking MEJO 459 (Community Journalism), where the students of the class work to cover the Northeast Central Durham area, which is an underserved community. We work to serve the people who live there by producing the Durham VOICE newspaper and website.

This project is important because without us, the community is essentially forgotten by the other areas of Durham. When events occur in this part of Durham, the Durham newspaper often doesn’t cover it. No one deserves to be forgotten, and no one should feel like they don’t have a voice.

The purpose of community journalism, as taught in this class, is to be relentlessly local. We cover this community because people want to know what’s going on where they live. Who’s in the paper that they know? What new restaurant is going up near their neighborhood?

For reporters, working for a community newspaper also gives you the chance to be more than just a reporter. For example, many newspapers are tiny and may only have one or two editors for a ton of stories for each edition. This matters because hopefully, you will make friends with your editors and not want to cause them additional stress by poor grammar and incorrect facts that they have to fix, but also because it will be your name on the byline. If something slides past the editors, you’re going to be the one who gets pinned for it.

It’s not always as high pressure as working to maintain accuracy in your stories. At the Durham VOICE, I’m the assistant print editor, and I get to help design the print edition layouts using Adobe InDesign. I also work as a student reporter and get to turn in photos I take with my stories.

Big newspapers such as The New York Times matter because it’s important to be informed of what’s going on in the rest of the world, but people also want to know what’s going on at home, too.

Growing up, I had a poster in my room that said, “One day I will change the world.” I’m going to accomplish this. I believe that everyone has a little bit of “I want to change the world” in them. I also believe it’s OK to just change the world for one person.

Before this class, I wanted to work for a big city newspaper. I still do, but not right away, and definitely not for forever. Instead, I want to work for community newspapers for a while and work on my world-changing plans one article at a time.