July 22, 2012

Award winner says failing to do good rural journalism tells rural people they are 'not that important'

All that is, can or should be great about community journalism was on display July 20 as two rural newspaper journalists with very different but equally distinctive careers received the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism.

Jennifer P. Brown, opinion editor and former editor of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, and Max Heath, retired vice president and executive editor of Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. received the award from the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The award is named for the rural newspaper publisher who is a national SPJ Fellow and co-founder of the Institute, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. Last year Smith was the first recipient of the award, which is presented for a career of public service through community journalism in Kentucky, or anywhere by a current or former Kentuckian, with preference given to those outside metropolitan areas.

In her remarks to the awards dinner crowd at Eastern Kentucky University's Center for the Arts, Brown, left, gave a clear picture of the fortitude and high goals often required be a good community journalist.

"You have to be careful with friendships, and you have to tell the truth. And then you see the subjects of your stories in the toilet paper aisle at Kroger," she said. "Often, I learn that we don’t expect enough from people. I mean we don’t expect enough from our own journalists and from the people we cover. Setting the bar high usually works. I hate to see people at smaller papers accepting crumbs. If you don’t do good journalism at small papers —and doing good journalism includes filing open records requests and complaining when the open meetings law is violated —then you are telling people who live in rural areas that their place in life, in the world, is not that important."

For more from Brown, and from Heath, and more about the award, click here.

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