Community journalists urged to think outside comfort zones
BROOKLYN PARK -- Community journalists, including those in Otter Tail County, strive to cover local events as best they can, while also writing stories about people in the towns in which they serve.
Thinking outside the box was encouraged in Brooklyn Park Jan. 30 and 31 during this year’s annual convention of the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
One of the speakers who addressed this topic was Gayle Golden of the University of Minnesota journalism school.
“Develop diverse audiences among hidden possibilities,” she said.
Golden reminded editors and writers that their communities are made up of people with different ages, backgrounds, religions and different educational levels.
“Your towns also have people who have physical and mental health challenges,” she said.
Golden previously had her students examine drug and alcohol problems on the University of Minnesota campus in the Twin Cities.
“The key for us as educators and journalism students, and for you who work at newspapers, is to build relationships,” she said.
Golden and two of her students told journalists at the MNA convention that efforts to have people share their stories on overcoming drug and alcohol problems can be successful.
“The best way to do this is to communicate with people in their comfort zones, when they are at ease with themselves,” said U of M journalism student Ariana Wilson. “People open up when they are in an anxiety-neutral position and are in control of their environment.”
Golden added that community journalists need to build relationships in their communities.
“Through newspaper articles, with people sharing their stories, readers can learn how to change their own lives when it becomes necessary,” she said.
In prior years community journalism, for the most part, involved writing about the town basketball teams, service club meetings, city council and school board, debate teams, hobbyists such as wood workers and other topics.
Journalism schools, while analyzing various community newspapers, often refer to these articles as “chicken dinner stories.”
In recent years more community journalists have been willing to tackle tough subjects such as mental health issues in addition to those suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.
“Community journalists, today, are on the right track,” Golden said. “Through social media, there are more ways to connect with people who are willing to share their stories.”