When someone thanks me for covering an issue in a particular town, it brings up conflicting feelings.
It’s always nice when someone says they appreciate our work — but often when someone says, “Thank you for covering x,” they mean that if CT Examiner didn’t, nobody would.
I’ve read past clips from the Hartford Courant or Hearst covering local issues in Preston or Killingworth. That’s rare now as reporters hustle to make up for the work of all the journalists who have been laid off through the years.
There are hard-working reporters in all of these legacy newsrooms who are doing good work, but far fewer of them than their used to be. I’ve worked in a newsroom before that answered to a corporate office more than 1,000 miles away. I’m glad I don’t anymore. I don’t envy those that do, and I admire them for doing their work every day not knowing when the next round of layoffs is coming.
They do the best they can, but they don’t decide how many reporters to hire. And despite their efforts to keep up, people have felt the effects of declining coverage in their towns.
Like a lot of students at the Missouri School of Journalism, I learned the importance of local news from Scott Swafford — my first editor at the Columbia Missourian, who retired this year after instilling the importance of local news on countless young reporters. Scott made me a true believer in the power people have in their own communities, and the power of the press to keep them informed.
He taught us that what happens in a local sewer commission meeting can have as much impact on people’s lives as big national stories. That even the arcane can have human impacts. I haven’t wanted to write anything but local news since.
CT Examiner’s mission is asking big questions in small places, especially filling in the void left when legacy newspapers cut back. We work hard to keep a watchful eye on your towns — and virtual town meetings allow us to watch planning and zoning, board of education, inland wetlands and board of selectmen meetings across the region.
I’ll often watch three or four a week, and often without a story in mind. It can be a grind watching hours of planning and zoning deliberations every night after a day of writing and making calls, but I almost never log off without having learned something new or having found a new idea to pursue. Plus, it’s my job. And as I’m often reminded, if we don’t do it, there are few left who will.
This year, those sewer commission meetings will be as important as ever — as towns work out how to spend unprecedented amounts of federal money. I’ll be watching, and I’ll keep you in the loop.