Whether it’s radio, broadcast, or print / online, local journalism is as important as ever. That was clear on April 6 when ACC’s Composition, Creative Writing, and Journalism Department hosted Lighthouses in the Darkness: A Panel on Why Local Journalism Matters with a star-studded lineup of local reporters in front of a packed house at the library. Moderated by the Arapahoe Pinnacle co-editor-in-chief Lillian Fuglei, the panel featured Ryan Warner, host of Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio, Alison Berg, a reporter from Rocky Mountain PBS, McKenna Harford, reporter from Colorado Community Media's Douglas County News-Press Reporter, Elizabeth Hernandez, reporter from the Denver Post, Rylee Dunn, reporter from Colorado Community Media's Arvada Press Reporter, and Thelma Grimes, Colorado Community Media's South Metro newsroom editor.
The panel shared their origin stories in terms of how they came to the journalism field, impactful stories they’ve covered for their communities and in their own lives, how they earn their communities’ trust, how they practice self-care after covering traumatic events, and more.
Warner always knew he wanted to go into journalism. He played NBC news anchor in his basement as a kid, studied journalism in college, and worked for the school’s broadcast news, before later transitioning to public radio.
Unlike Warner, many of the reporters found their way to journalism in college. Hernandez went to the University of Colorado, worked at the student paper, the CU Independent, and got internships at the Daily Camera and Denver Post before getting a job at the Denver Post.
Berg was set to study psychology before realizing math and science wasn’t her jam. So, she started to work for her student newspaper. Without any experience reporting, she got a tip from a business student on campus who said a dean at the school was distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unethical ways and the advisory board to oversee the funds had never met. Berg and her student media coworkers began reporting for months and found out the dean was giving himself raises and spending it wildly. They acquired documents, met with lawyers, and published the story, which led to the dean resigning, students being refunded money, and the advisory board finally meeting. After that experience, Berg was hooked.
A recurring theme was the important work local journalists cover on a day-to-day basis that won’t be found in national media. One great example is Colorado Community Media, which owns and operates 24 newspapers from Evergreen to Castle Rock.
“Everything in your daily lives, from how you drive, where to shop, and what you do are what our reporters cover,” Grimes said, highlighting the importance of local news outlets covering everything from school board and city council meetings to development. “Beyond just the government level that affects your everyday lives, it's also the people we've told stories about that really matter to people in our communities.”
All of the panelists noted the importance of positive stories to shout out people who are doing amazing things, but often don’t get their voices heard like immigrants starting businesses, neighbors with interesting hobbies, people experiencing homelessness who are often dehumanized in the media, or students fighting to be safe in their schools.
Earning trust is an essential part of journalism and Dunn and Harford talked about putting in the work to show your community you care. Warner called it creating “insta-macy” (instant intimacy). For example, Harford sets up coffee chats where she invites the community to come and meet with her, ask questions, and talk in off-the-record conversations. Hernandez shared that one of her favorite parts of the job is covering marginalized people and earning people’s trust, but also fulfilling journalism’s role as the Fourth Estate in democracy.
“When you can hold people accountable, that's also really fun. And asking the tough questions, being persistent, and being annoying. Being all the things that you're told not to be, is great. And that's your job. And you get paid to do that and it's for the public good,” Hernandez said. “[It’s] also a public service to get those questions answered. So, it's kind of fun to have those two things where you like, feel very empathetic, and you're just like, telling these people stories, but then also you get to like, kind of kick some butt, too.”
Warner echoed Hernandez’s sentiments, highlighting CPR’s regular programming featuring discussions with Colorado’s governors and allowing listeners to submit questions they want answered.
“I enjoy connecting the populace to the people in power,” Warner said.
If you are interested in learning more about the Journalism Transfer Major Associate of Arts degree at ACC, check out the ACC journalism webpage, talk to ACC's advising department, or visit the Arapahoe Pinnacle website. If any students want to be a reporter for Arapahoe Pinnacle, ACC’s student-run online newspaper, or submit work to it, please check out Pinnacle’s website. The Journalism Club is also always welcoming new members. If you are interested, please contact co-advisors Joelle Milholm (joelle [dot] milholm [at] arapahoe [dot] edu (joelle[dot]milholm[at]arapahoe[dot]edu)) or Monica Fuglei (monica [dot] fuglei [at] arapahoe [dot] edu (monica[dot]fuglei[at]arapahoe[dot]edu)) or show up to the meetings on April 18 and May 2 at 2pm in the library or on Zoom.