Local News Revealed

This episode of Radio Active Magazine features a discussion among four journalists representing local news outlets in Kansas City.  Each will describe their particular foci and why they think people in Kansas City should value the news they report.  This includes highlighting at least one of their most important recent stories.


Kelsey Ryan’s contribution was excerpted from an interview she gave to Joel Goldberg, “Talking Midwest Nonprofit Journalism with The Beacon“.  The following is a transcript from this excerpt.  

All of us and in our society just really need to be informed. That’s kind of the basis for why journalism is a thing.  We like to remember that it’s one of the only professions actually put into our Constitution. And that there’s a whole amendment that includes that as well. I was a political science major, so I always love to get on that democracy soapbox.  But that’s a key, a key part of why journalism is so important, those foundations, those basics and getting back to it.  And I feel like, especially in the time that we’re in now, with a public health crisis that’s been going on for nine months, and on the heels of the 2020 election, this is just a time that, as citizens and members of the public, we have to be informed, and we have to be part of that civic process.

We did a lot of community engagement work. One of the things that was a resounding finding from from talking to folks in our community was that there are so many opinions out there and knock on effects. And so that really helped drive our decision making to just do straight news, and to not have an opinion section. Because so many people had talked about how difficult it was to discern, and that they felt like they were getting a lot of opinions, but they weren’t always getting the background information or the in depth reporting that they needed in order to really feel informed.

This past year, one of our full time reporters was a Report for America core member. Report for America is a national program that helps place journalists in newsrooms across the country. And I’m really pleased to tell everyone that today, we were finally able to announce that we’re actually getting five more Report for America reporters for The Beacon. And this, I’m just excited about it. We know at least one of them will be a data journalist focused on government accountability reporting.

We just had our first community advisory board meeting as well. And so I believe it was 10 folks from across the metro in the region.  It’s a really great way for reporters to not be siloed. So often in journalism, journalists talk to a lot of other journalists. And we aren’t always talking to our community members enough. So in addition to having our reporters do events, to having our reporters, you know, work on engagement directly with folks, we’ve got this community advisory board, where we can really kind of have our ears to the ground on some of the issues that are important to folks in the community and helps inform the reporters. So I’m just incredibly excited about it. This is a newer thing in journalism, at least it’s becoming more mainstream to have community advisory boards. And of course at the end of the day, the journalists still are making the decisions about the stories that we cover and have that journalistic independence. But it’s just so incredibly important to have these direct communications with people in the community.

Journalism is a public service. There has been mass consolidation in media across the United States:  Half the newspaper reporters in the United States have lost their jobs in the last decade. And a lot of that has to do with the failing business model of newspapers. I can pull out data and research and studies and all of that about how they’ve basically tied the lack of news coverage on the local and state level to increased political polarization. When there’s fewer journalists, the cost and the spending of government goes up. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why journalism is so important. And the profit motive is something that personally I feel has been a problem in media. When you have huge pay discrepancies between what reporters make and CEOs make for news organizations. And that’s a major problem. And so, the local control aspect is important, but also coming up with ways to sustainably fund journalism.

One of our articles from Brittany Callen, who’s the Report for America core member covering health and environment, was about how there was an inconsistency for COVID testing sites in certain communities.  And the authorities read that article and changed to have more consistency about where the testing was held and what times it was being held. We had reporter Celisa Calacal: She was doing a story on the election website security throughout Kansas and Missouri, seeing if they were actually secure websites where county election results are posted.  This is how they get the news out for their county. And we had several folks, as we were doing the interviews, tell her, “Oh, well, we’re going to update to HTTPS now.” Because they weren’t secure. They were just HTTP. And I know that’s a small thing, right? It’s a single letter, but it makes a world of difference for the integrity of these county election sites. We also did a lot of coverage of poll workers and how, especially with the elderly, poll workers were more at risk for COVID.  There were concerns about them being in person. We had folks who told us they signed up to be poll workers because of our coverage.


image: Linotype operators in the Erikson Building, Seattle, Washington, ca. 1906

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