As 2019 comes to a close, I thought it’d be useful to share some thoughts on my first six months as editor of The Floyd Press. I hope this column will help to illuminate the journalistic philosophy that guides my management of the newspaper, as well as my reporting work. I want you all to know that I think critically about the role the press plays in our community, and reflect often on how I am succeeding and failing at leading this institution.
As I wrote in my very first column, “I am here to hear from you, learn from you, and to support you in staying informed about and engaged with this community that we all love … I love to write and to make that writing shine—but at the end of the day, my highest obligation is not to a stylebook or to myself, but to the truth and to all of you.” I am here to follow truth wherever it may lead—to ask questions of our public officials, to hold those in power accountable to our collective best interest. However, I am also accountable to you, the readers—I should be showing up at the events that matter to you, including your voice in my coverage, and capturing what it’s really like to live in Floyd County today.
Over the past few months, I have received (with gratitude!) lots of feedback from you all—feedback that has ranged from appreciation that we tried something new (by reading and publishing data from campaign finance disclosures) to disappointment that we didn’t honor a long-held Floyd Press tradition (by leaving the Homecoming Court off the front page). I want you to know I read and heard all your input, and took it seriously. We don’t always have to agree about what is the best use of my time as a reporter or the best use of precious column inches—but I will always be open to hearing more about the priorities of our shared community.
With that in mind, I wanted to write a post-mortem of sorts—a summary of my (our!) victories and shortcomings this year, that can act as a guide to better coverage in 2020.
Here are a few accomplishments of my time at The Press of which I am particularly proud:
• Between me and my dedicated, talented, reliable freelancers, we seldom missed a local government meeting or session of the circuit court. Local governments and law enforcement bodies impact the daily lives of citizens as much as—if not more than—state and federal bodies, and we ensured that the Press’ readership was always kept abreast of local issues and decisions.
• In a similar vein, we provided comprehensive coverage of the 2019 election—from interviews with every single candidate on the Floyd County ballot, to insights into campaign finance, to following a recount election all the way to its conclusion. Democracy depends on well-informed, engaged voters who know what to expect from their elected officials and hopefully, the Floyd Press helped you fulfill this crucial role.
• This year, the Press reached a larger audience by increasing its presence on social media (follow us on Facebook and Twitter!), live-tweeting certain events of particular public interest, and regularly updating our website.
• I believe our coverage of agriculture, economic development and local nonprofits was fairly comprehensive—although of course we could always improve. Readers should feel free to send tips to me any time!
• We tried to keep our news Floyd-centric and relevant to our specific, local audience—we attended dozens of local events, including parades, fairs, arts and music showcases, Chamber of Commerce events, school events, ribbon-cuttings and more.
• In a testament to the larger Floyd Press and Southwest Virginia Community Newspapers staff, we had a responsive customer service, circulation and advertising staff.
Looking ahead to 2020, and after internalizing your suggestions, here are ways I’ve resolved to improve:
• Our readership deserves a diversity of opinions and perspectives on our commentary page, including more local voices. I will work to incorporate submissions and columns from Floyd-based experts who have valuable insights to share. The paper should reflect more than my perspective on what’s “newsworthy.”
• Something I heard again and again these past several months is that you all love local history—you’re interested in reading more about the founding of Floyd, its past achievements and how it has developed and grown. We can focus more on feature-writing and storytelling in our pages next year.
• Next year, we’ll branch out with respect to the community organizations we’re covering and the people to whom we’re talking. I know there are many groups doing consistently excellent work to improve Floyd, provide necessary services, enrich and entertain, and many that we overlooked last year. We’ll feature more of these groups within our pages in editions to come.
• Finally, we’ll beef up our photojournalism. We’ll publish more photos, with more descriptive and helpful captions, and we’ll supplement our reporting of events that haven’t typically had a photographic component with dynamic images that help tell a better story. We’ll work on creating eye-catching layouts that not only make you want to read the paper, but help you read it in a way that is informative and useful.
I’m still new to Floyd, and learning more about it every day. I hope as I continue to seek to produce a paper that honors the Press’ long history, as well as equips its readership with information that makes them more productive, fulfilled and civic-minded, you’ll be patient with me. As always, I’ll remain open to your feedback (and, hopefully, some praise.) I’m wishing we all find success, growth and happiness in this new year.