Sutherland Springs coverage a reminder of the power of community journalism

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Sutherland Springs coverage a reminder of the power of community journalism

Zach Ienatsch

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There are times when people need journalists to be more than just the news providers. There are moments when a reporter should remember there’s more to a story than mere information blurbs and timeliness. There are stories that require reporters to meet people on the worst days of their lives and share these experiences with the world.

The Star was confronted with a situation just like that, not once, but twice in memoriam of the 26 church attendees killed in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017, and again a year later for the one-year memorial.

Media coverage has earned a reputation akin to a vulture, descending upon communities in the wake of unspeakable tragedies to profit off the tears and blood of neighbors. This reputation is rightfully earned and serves as a legitimate critique of how reporters have failed to retain the humanity of a people when covering tragedies.

But when reporters take time to speak with community members, earn their recollection of stories, give appropriate space and ensure those affected tell the story, a story can be more than just clicks or a prize-winning piece. Community journalism can be a method of healing, outsourcing support to every audience member.

The Star‘s commitment to covering the tragedy experienced by the people of Sutherland Springs did not end with the publication of the initial coverage a year ago, an effort for which our reporters were recognized for breaking news reporting by College Media Association. A year later, the people affected are still living with the memories, this time with a solemn memorial, which The Star also attended.

Far too often, the sources of tragedy only remain in the papers and on our screens for a limited time before being replaced by the next big scoop. But as the previous pages have displayed, this story required more of its reporters.

During coverage of the anniversary memorial, the audience ranged from Gov. Greg Abbott and other politicians to friends, family and neighbors of the deceased. As far as residents go, many were not comfortable with speaking to media on the record. One after another, mourners turned down the chance to interview. This is not shocking, given how quick the media is to profit off vulnerable times. The residents were right to reserve the day for solemn remembrance, because after all, they don’t owe us anything.

Conversely, journalists owe their communities everything. Because readers financially support their local papers and show additional kindness after events such as the Capital Gazette shooting, readers make news possible. There are countless reminders of why newspapers and reporters are supposed to serve the people. The Star has, admittedly, not always done this to the fullest extent, such as our erroneous attribution to the 2017 Vegas shooting as the worst massacre in U.S. history and undercoverage of the 2018 primary elections. But journalists, just like any other humans, are in a constant state of growth, reflection and commitment to a better tomorrow.

It’s unfortunate it takes events like the Sutherland Springs shooting to highlight these truths. It’s unfortunate that community-focused journalism is not always the default when reporters go into the field. But when journalists lead by example, the rest of the industry follows. Commitment, patience, understanding and total selflessness for the people of Sutherland Springs is a standard every reporter can strive to live by when tragedy strikes close to home.

The editorial board of The University Star supports journalism for the greater good and explicitly identifies the people as who we serve. This is not a destination already reached but a commitment to be reaffirmed every day from here on out. There is no such thing as sufficiently good enough when the curation of the human condition is on the line.

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