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It's Our Turn: Nothing embarrassing about this media

I'm going to make a confession.

During the earlier years of my career as a journalist, there were times I was embarrassed to be "part of the media."

Those times usually came up when some big media frenzy occurred, typically involving someone famous - the O.J. Simpson car chase, all things Michael Jackson or Princess Diana, the JonBenet Ramsey story, etc.

I was embarrassed by the way "the media" reported some of these cases, showing footage over and over (and over) until viewers had every detail memorized, or digging so deeply to find new "facts" to top their competition, or harassing people to get comments.

But I eventually learned that that's an entirely different media world than that of community journalism. And I am not embarrassed about good ol', small town community journalism.

But I will also admit that this world of media doesn't come without its own set of challenges. At a smaller, community newspaper you are writing about people you know, businesses you shop with, controversies that divide local some way, you are personally connected to every story you write.

You might have to report something negative about a store you frequently shop at. You might have to write about a crime committed by the brother of a good friend. You might have to cover the accident that killed your neighbor's son. You might have to publish a story about the wrongdoing of a public official, but then have to call that same official months later to get their comments for a different story.

In a larger media outlet, it's easier to write the "tough" stories. It's nothing personal - you're just doing your job. In a smaller community, it sometimes does get personal.

A good reporter needs to find the balance between reporting the story and showing compassion for the subject. Some die-hard journalists would disagree, arguing that a good reporter puts compassion aside and presents the cold, hard facts.

The reporters at the Echo Press don't see it that way. Yes, we believe in giving our readers the facts, but we also believe there is room for compassion.

Any passionate community journalist will tell you that their main goal is to record the news for the readers, accurately and fairly. They don't want to shock you with gory details of an accident, or spend hours sensationalizing a humdrum story just to increase readership.

Most "small town" reporters don't write stories for entertainment value - they write them to keep the community informed.

The reporters are part of the community. They live here, shop here, have friends and family here. When something bad happens, it happens to our community, too. We aren't celebrating because we've got a front page story. We're grieving just like everyone else. BUT, we want to get you the facts, so you know what really that you aren't taken in by the rumor mills or confused by the conflicting reports that pass from person to person.

Because we are part of a community where people know us, we feel we have an extra responsibility to make good choices, and that's not always easy.

Do you report about the new way of cooking meth that is passing through the community, or will that only encourage other drug users to give it a try? Do you report suicides, or is that too personal? Do you call the family of an accident victim to give them a chance to share some information, or do you only rely on the information provided by rescue personnel?

These are difficult questions that we at the Echo Press spend a lot of time and thought on each time they come up. We don't take any of these decisions lightly. There are no hard and fast rules - we take them case-by-case.

We live in this community and we know the people here. It's not uncommon to cover a tragic story and then see the victim's family members at a community event weeks later. We don't want to be embarrassed when we see them. We want to be confident in knowing that we brought the accurate information to the readers and were compassionate in doing so.

There's nothing embarrassing about that kind of media.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Life Editor Tara Bitzan on Twitter at @TBitzan.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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