Community newspapers the ‘lifeblood of every community’

The panel
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Local publications provide ample opportunities 

Yvonne Mintz is the editor and publisher of The Facts in Brazoria County, Texas.

It’s not a newspaper most readers would have heard of. The Facts doesn’t compete with USA Today or even the Houston Chronicle, which is right up the road.

It doesn’t need to.

The Facts is just as likely to cover a local softball game or a high school graduation as it is the latest controversy at the town council.

The paper’s motto reminds readers of its mission: “No one delivers local news like The Facts.”

While sitting on a panel talking to college journalists, Mintz expanded on this idea.

“Without us, officials in this community would be unchecked in their power,” she told the interns participating in the Dow Jones News Fund / Texas Press Association Center for Editing Excellence training program before they left for internships at publications such as the Houston Chronicle and patch.com but also the Azle News, Hill Country News, Pleasanton Express and Tyler County Booster, all in Texas.

Mike Hodges, executive director of the Texas Press Association, said of community newspapers, “They are the lifeblood of every community.”

“We don’t shy away from the big stuff, but we don’t scoff at the little stuff. People want to read about the stuff that affects them,” Mintz said.

Moderated by Griff Singer, a retired senior lecturer from the University of Texas at Austin, the journalists on the panel discussed the importance of community journalism and the advantages in working for local media.

Ken Cooke, a fourth-generation publisher and editor now at the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, said, “It’s all about serving your community, serving your readers.”

And, as Hodges said, “The newspaper is a part of every single event. The newspaper’s there; it’s part of it. The smaller the community, the more the newspaper is a part of that family.”

Hodges said that for many local journalists, the job is more than, well, a job.

“There is a common thread that runs through all of them, and that is family,” Hodges said.

“A community is much like that, an extension of that.”

Singer added, “We see these people at church. We see them at the supermarket. It’s up close and personal. If you’re working at a big metro, there’s some anonymity there. You suddenly become very identified. Community allows you to get your hands dirty in so many ways. Writing. Reporting. Taking pictures.”

When J.J. Kim, a Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at the San Francisco Chronicle, asked about the challenges of living and working in a small community, both editors acknowledged that it can be a problem.

Mintz said, “Yes, it does get awkward.”

However, she said journalists just have to know their personal ethics and their boundaries.

“If you set boundaries for yourself, really the decisions are pretty easy and the community respects you,” she said.

They also acknowledged the importance of maintaining credibility when Kaylee Pippins, a Texas Press Association intern at the Azle News asked how a recent college graduate can build credibility.

Mintz said, “Get things right. Spell everyone’s name right. Be inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. Don’t bow down to someone you think is more powerful than you.”

Cooke said, “Be detail-oriented. Don’t expect your editors to catch something you should have caught. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Singer said, “Accuracy is always the best way to build your credibility.”

All of the panelists said working in community journalism is a good place for young journalists to polish their skills and to learn new skills.

Cooke, who edits a paper with a circulation of 7,000 in a conservative town popular with tourists, said his company has a daily update and email newsletter and is expanding its work in video.

“We post stories to the web. We have an e-edition that goes along with the print, an e-newsletter,” Cooke said. “We have a lot of links in that to get (readers) back to our website. We’re using more video than we ever have.”

Mintz said her paper also maintains a daily dashboard and is on social media a lot, posting links, not just posting ‘stuff.’

“We’re working harder as journalists than we ever have.”

All of the panelists said the pandemic had a significant impact on their business and noted that it is a business.

“We gotta have the money to do the journalism,” Mintz reminded the group. “The journalism doesn’t get to happen unless you maintain a profitable newspaper.”

The pandemic, which the panelists described as a historical event in both big cities and small towns, posed challenges.

Cooke said, “People are going to look at this pandemic decades or centuries from now to see what we reported on it.”

Mintz said, “We’ve spent a lot of time talking to schoolteachers, parents, medical professionals. One story I was particularly proud of, we took a look at the Hispanic families because they were disproportionately impacted.”

She said her publication focuses on telling stories about real people.

“That’s important no matter what level of journalism you’re at,” she said, noting that reporting on real people helps readers go beyond the numbers.

She said this is also where local newspapers can help the community.

“One of the things a community newspaper can and should do (is) to support its businesses,” she said. “You find yourself being a cheerleader for shopping local. We launched a ‘shop local, shop strong’ campaign. It was really successful. We gave out prizes and incentives for shopping locally.”

The editors also talked about potential careers in community journalism.

Cooke said there are ample opportunities to move up.

Mintz agreed, noting that she had a job opening at that moment.

She said, “It’s not glamorous. You’re not going to get rich. You can afford to support yourself. And you’ll have stories for the rest of your life.”

 

PANELISTS

Griff Singer, retired, senior lecturer, the University of Texas at Austin

GRIFFIN (GRIFF) SINGER retired from the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism in 2003 after 34 years of service. Over the past 50 years, he has participated in virtually all areas related to the newspaper business and its technological changes — as a hot metal printer, a reporter, editor, teacher, newspaper consultant and now digital journalist. Because of his service all across the state, he was inducted into Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame in 2016.

He has served in reporter and editor positions at the Arlington (Texas) Citizen-Journal, The Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Light. For 17 summers, he moved to Houston between academic years to join the Houston Chronicle as an assistant metro editor and writing coach.

He has received numerous public service awards from the news industry. Alumni of The Daily Texan named him as the inaugural THE Friend of The Daily Texan in 2015. He also is proud of the 10 former students who have won Pulitzer Prizes.

Mike Hodges
Mike Hodges, executive director, Texas Press Association

MIKE HODGES, executive director, Texas Press Association, helps community newspapers through the TPA, a member-owned trade association of more than 400 member newspapers — dailies and weeklies. That’s no easy task. Texas has 254 counties. The distance from Texarkana to El Paso is 820 miles. Austin to El Paso is 566 miles. Once you make it to El Paso from Austin, you’re halfway to California.

Mike worked many years in newspaper advertising after earning a management degree at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. He has been associated with TPA since 1991. After serving seven years as advertising director, he was promoted to executive director. That was 23 years ago.

Yvonne Mintz
Yvonne Mintz, editor/publisher, The Facts (Brazosport, Texas)

YVONNE MINTZ is editor and publisher of The Facts in Clute, Brazoria County, Texas. She joined The Facts as a staff reporter in 1997, the year she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism.

Mintz became managing editor of The Facts  in 2004 and took over as publisher in 2016. As a reporter, Mintz won many awards from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, most notably first place in investigative reporting for a series of stories that resulted in the resignation of state Sen. Buster Brown. Since then she has won honors for column and editorial writing. 

Texas APME has named The Facts Newspaper of the Year in its category four times under her leadership. The paper earned Community Service honors for coverage of Hurricane Ike and  the breaking news award for coverage of Hurricane Harvey. The paper confronts issues in its community head-on and recently won feature series accolades for stories about sex trafficking in local schools and the Community Service award for a series of stories about methamphetamine use in Brazoria County.  

Ken Cooke, publisher and editor of the Fredericksburg Standard

Editor and Publisher of The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, KEN ESTEN COOKE‘s family has owned the Rockdale Reporter, in a community northeast of Austin, since 1911, when his great-grandfather purchased it. His grandfather, William Cooke, and father, Bill Cooke, a University of North Texas journalism graduate, produced a top weekly paper for that community.

Cooke returned home to work for his father after several years in the music business, and became publisher in 2007. Because of the town’s economic struggles, Ken left the paper under his sister’s watch while he worked briefly in public relations before becoming publisher and editor at the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post in 2012.

Under Cooke’s direction, the newspaper has expanded to produce magazines and digital products. The Standard and its related magazines consistently place at or near the top of the division in press contests. 

Cooke, who has a bachelor’s degree in management from Concordia University, also serves his industry. He is a director and second vice president of the Texas Press Association, a trustee of the Texas Newspaper Foundation, and a director and past president of the South Texas Press Association.

Full disclosure: Bradley Wilson is an associate professor at Midwestern State University. He co-directs the Center for Editing Excellence through the University of Texas sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund and Center for Editing Excellence.

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