By Reba Hull Campbell
The work of journalists has always intrigued me. I went to college thinking I’d be one. Even after I decided to get my degree in PR, my senior project focused on journalistic ethics and the first amendment. Working with words and telling stories as a career had been on my radar since grade school.
A recent series of Facebook posts showing the final press run at The State paper’s printing operation got me to thinking about how I came to understand the importance of local news and sharing stories.
As a fourth grade Girl Scout, I was mesmerized by a tour of The State/Record’s printing operation. In sixth grade, I “published” a neighborhood magazine in the summer. I still have stacks of notebooks from middle school where I chronicled local controversies like lunch selections in the cafeteria.
As a ninth grader, I had a class assignment to interview someone in the career field I thought I’d like to pursue after college. There was no doubt I wanted to interview a newspaper reporter. A friend’s uncle was Bill McDonald, a long-time reporter and columnist at The State, so I got to interview him.
I remember being amazed that someone as important as a newspaper reporter would take time to talk to a ninth grader. To me, newspaper reporters held a celebrity status that rivaled sports heroes for other people.
I recently found the folder from that assignment as I was going through boxes from my parents’ attic. One thing that jumped out was his observation about pay. Bill McDonald told me you don’t go into this line of work for the money.
I’m assuming the part about the money still holds true today. But in spite of this, there are still lots of dedicated local reporters who work long days, nights and weekends, churning out stories and analysis to fill today’s unforgiving news cycle that requires updated content around the clock.
The pandemic has forced local print, broadcast and online outlets to refocus how they cover news because there’s just so much more to cover. Since March, local news outlets have been my personal go-to for information during these times of pandemic uncertainty and racial unrest. I can only absorb so much news daily, and I’ve decided for my own sanity to focus most on what’s happening closest to home.
I’m really grateful for these frontline reporters’ commitment to this profession. They are showing us the faces and the facts of the pandemic in the context of our own neighborhoods, streets and downtowns.
While I’ve long since stopped my hard copy newspaper deliveries, I subscribe to two newspapers’ digital versions and read daily email updates from at least a dozen other South Carolina papers and television stations. Local television stations’ Facebook Live streams were where I turned on May 30 when downtown Columbia became a riot zone. South Carolina Public Radio’s growing stable of journalists reporting from around the state and its podcast series, the SC Lede, are a daily go-to. I follow dozens of local reporters on Twitter where they share their news stories and sometimes give additional insight and backstories to the articles they are writing.
While my career path didn’t end up leading me into a newsroom, I have spent more than 30 years working with reporters to help them tell their stories. One of my favorite parts of the PR work I’ve done all these years is media relations.
A recent contract project has given me the chance to get back into the swing of pitching news stories. I’ve reconnected with some old friends and made some new connections. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy talking with these reporters who are our pipeline to understanding what’s happening around us.
Bill McDonald told me in his interview that having a “nose for news” and “ink in your blood” were critical to being a successful newspaper reporter. While the ink part may no longer be as pertinent with the shrinking number of hard copy newspapers, the “nose for news” part certainly is more important than ever.
If anything good comes out of these crazy times, maybe it’s the resurrection of robust local news coverage in newspapers, on television and radio, and online.
I offer a shout out to all the reporters, editors, photographers, designers, producers, social media experts and other newsroom staff who work behind the scenes to keep us informed. Keep up the good work. It matters.
After more than 35 years working in politics, communications, management and fundraising, Reba Hull Campbell became a rookie retiree last year and is enjoying a new career as a writer and consultant. Reba is passionate about travel, writing, staying connected to friends, and learning to play the uke, guitar and keyboard. She can be reached at [email protected], @rebahcampbell or through her blog at bit.ly/RandomConnectPoints