Rita Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 7, 2008

‘Personal’ defines journalism policy at The Panolian

“Oh my God. This article is so, so, so very confusing to the outside reader. Apparantly (sic) this is a very personal situation to the reporter (John Howell), because it has been reported in such a confusing manner.”

So commented a visitor to The Panolian’s Web site after we had posted John’s account of the accident that killed Son Hudson on September 26.

Personal, indeed.

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And that’s not a bad thing for a community journalist.

Son’s life touched so many of us, including those on this newspaper staff. We were accustomed to seeing Son come by each Friday with his entry in our football contest.

What happened on Highway 6 that day WAS personal to so many. John’s report spoke to us with relevancy and familiarity. We DO know each other’s pickups.

What the Internet correspondent failed to recognize is that we’re not writing for the “outside reader.” We’re writing for our hometown folks. We post news on the Web because so many of them are choosing that means of connecting with us. And because Panola Countians who no longer live here use the Internet to stay connected with home.

With the increasing recognition of the South Panola Tigers as a national football powerhouse, we’ve received comments from all over as savvy football fans have found our Web site and follow our coverage from week to week.

“Outside readers” are welcome to our Web site, but they run the risk of being confused. I make no apologies. I can’t help it if they’re not “from here.”

At the presidential debate (the same day as Son’s wreck), a reporter from British newspaper The Independent was talking with Rupert and Billy about the condition of journalism today. Community newspapers, he said, are the only entities practicing true journalism these days.

More and more large daily operations, due to time and budget constraints, rely on broadcast news sources and the Internet to get their facts. Community journalists, he pointed out, are still pursuing stories “from scratch” and following them with closely. It’s personal, because the journalists live in the community, too.

The 3,000 members of the media who were in Panola and Lafayette County two weeks ago have forgotten all about us now. They’ve all moved on… except us.

We’re not looking for a sound bite or a piece of a story to copy and paste onto a blog and then move on down the road to the next big story. This is home. We care about this place. And, Lord willing, we’ll be here tomorrow to cover Panola’s next big story.