Making an Impact with Local News Reporting

By Dean’s Intern Emily Hayes at The Durango Herald

Emily HayesFour months ago, I started an internship with a community newspaper based in Durango, Colorado called The Durango Herald. I’ve been working as their Washington DC correspondent, covering the Colorado congressional delegation and legislation that affects Southwest Colorado.

Since then, I’ve published 57 articles with the Herald, with the help of Shane Benjamin, the deputy editor. In this blog post, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from the experience, especially reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic.

We all experienced a dramatic shift in how we live our daily lives over the past few months. Information sharing on Covid-19 through print and digital news outlets became increasingly vital. With so much uncertainty, and different rules depending on which state or county you live in, localized news has also proved to be essential.

Local news contextualizes important decisions coming from the federal level and explains to people how it will affect them. As journalists, we should strive to have this kind of impact in every community. There really are stories everywhere. We should not let local news outlets fade into the background.

When I cover legislation coming out of Congress to support small businesses and hospitals, I identify safety nets that are especially important to the readership of the Herald. Then, I reach out to state and local organizations for more information specialized to the community. During such a chaotic time, it is important for people to have clear explanations and guidance on where they can access the support they need.

For example, under new legislation from Congress passed last week, farmers and ranchers are now able to apply for economic injury loans from the Small Business Association. The USDA also set aside $19 billion to support agriculture workers struggling from the impacts of Covid-19, $3 billion of which will be used to buy excess products that aren’t purchased in grocery stores. Theoretically, that food will be donated to food banks, where people who are struggling to pay for food because they are employed can receive free products for their families.

To get more information on how soon this program will be implemented, and what implementation might look like, I speak with senators and representatives from Colorado. Then I reach out to local officials at the Colorado Farm Bureau to get a balanced look at the situation, and obtain more information on how agricultural workers in the state can access the financial support. Of course, talking to the farmers and ranchers themselves is also important.

As students at a university in Washington, D.C., we are lucky to have easy access to so many more resources than most college students in the country. We also feel the pressure to get a job working at a big name, national publication. Professors often tout the student who got the job at The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Don’t get me wrong – those publications are obviously doing important work.

But the lesson is this: you can have an important, valuable impact wherever you are. In fact, the people who get overlooked are the people who need your reporting the most.

The silver lining from Covid-19 is that people are starting to learn what is truly important again: family, friends, taking the time for self-care, exercising, getting out into nature.

We’re also relearning how important local news is. But unfortunately, the financial impact of Covid-19 is taking a toll on local news outlets. Please support them. They are telling you about your state and your town’s businesses and stay-at-home rules.

And if you don’t get the job you imagined right out of school, remember you are just starting. Be open to the opportunities around you. Make an impact where you are. Unfortunately, stories abound, especially now.

As my great grandmother always said: “No one said it was going to be easy, kid.”