We’re taking The Lima News’ newsroom on the road Tuesday.
Several of us will be at a “pop-up newsroom” event between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Lima Public Library, 650 W. Market St., Lima. The idea is you can see us, know us and understand us better by interacting with us while we work.
I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about trying this when I first heard about it. This felt a little bit like a “live remote” on radio or TV, which is more of an advertisement for the venue than anything else.
After all, our reporters spend most of their days out and about, talking to residents of the communities we cover. And certainly we’re quite reachable here, whether it’s by phone, fax, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even that quaint delivery via the U.S. Postal Service.
Then I saw a recent study by the Pew Research Center. The vast majority of Americans have never spoken to a local journalist. Only 21% have. The percentage completely depends on your ethnicity too, with 23% of whites speaking to reporters, compared to 19% of blacks and 14% of Hispanics.
You’re also more likely to talk to journalists if you’re college-education (27%) compared to some college (23%) or high school or less (14%). Your wage also plays a part, with one in four people making more than $75,000 talking to a journalist, compared to one in five for the $30,000 to $74,999 range. It’s a putrid 17 percent for people making less than $30,000 a year.
When I think about the demographics of our area, that’s a concern. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income in Allen County is $47,905. The poverty rate here is 15%. The very people we aim to cover, the average residents and the disenfranchised of the region, fall in categories that seldom cross paths with a journalist.
This lack of interaction doesn’t help with people’s misunderstanding of what we do and how we do it.
So often, people who visit our building or call us on the phone are stunned to learn we won’t just print rumors or accept what people say as fact without checking it too. They think we should just parrot whatever perspective they have, not understanding that it helps everyone if we can share those ideas within the context of facts provable by public records.
Most of the people I explain this to seem genuinely dumbfounded. They just didn’t know that’s how it worked. In far too many cases, they thought reporters just wrote what they thought, sometimes even believing we make up quotes to support it.
Similarly, a stunning number think we have to have your permission to use your name in the paper, especially in crime and court reporting. It’s hard not to chuckle when I ask people if they really thought that accused murderer on the front page gave us permission to cover his trial. No, public records and public court hearings, combined with the First Amendment, give us the right, duty and obligation to tell the community about them.
I doubt we’ll ever convince everyone that we’re doing our best to be your eyes and ears in the community. I doubt we’ll ever make everyone 100% happy. Still, it’s worth the olive branch to step out into some more common spaces in our region to be available, to listen and to think about what we’ve heard.
Consider this your personal invitation to visit with us at the Lima Public Library on Tuesday. Or, if you feel like we’re not adequately reporting on this community, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call our newsroom at 419-222-NEWS (419-222-6397) or visit us at 3515 Elida Road, Lima, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. We’ll be glad to hear from you.