Katie Brandenburg
Western Kentucky University
Ashland Independent

The first story I wrote for the Ashland Daily Independent was a ceremony presenting an award for Father of the Year. Not exactly earth shattering stuff, but I was surprised at the welcome I received from the people there.

I was immediately welcomed into the small room where the ceremony was taking place and after that introduced to everyone who walked in the room. People told me stories about how their sons delivered the paper every morning or their daughters were in an article last week. It was only my first story and already I had begun to notice how vital and important the newspaper was to this community.

My experience working at my college newspaper had been different.

Covering governing bodies such as the Student Government Association had been like walking into a crowd of enemies every week. But now at city council meetings I’m met with smiles and waves. I don’t think it’s because I write soft stories. I’ve written about budgetary indecision and shortfalls. I think it’s because the Independent is so much a part of the Ashland community and the communities in the surrounding counties.

The people here know what a great forum the newspaper can be for their efforts because so many people do still read it. They’ll forgive the hard questions, it seems, when they trust the newspaper, when reporters have a relationship with readers.

What I’ve learned from working at the Independent is just how effectively community journalism can work. In school we learn that a journalist must remain as unbiased as possible, and in the past that has prevented me from taking full advantage of causes and events in our campus community. Affiliations are seen as almost a dangerous thing.

But the journalists I work with here show me it’s a good thing when a journalist is active in his or her community. Sponsoring or covering an event that might not be exciting opens up doors to different sources. It also continually lets people know that you are there and there to help. When they know that they come to you with the important stories.

Every day I sit at my desk beside a reporter who I listen to as she helps people address problems that they don’t know how to fix. When she got calls of complaint from people about damage to their homes after flooding in the area she told them who they needed to call to get the damage fixed, which city council meetings they should attended and who would be most open to their complaints. She’s gets the story, but she also helps make the lives of her sources and readers better.

That’s a lesson I will take back to my college newspaper. It will change the way I address coverage as a managing editor next semester for the better.