Join in the conversations about local news

Published 10:11 am Friday, July 17, 2015

“I’m thankful newspapers don’t attempt to please everyone all the time,” I told my wife while reading comments attached to recently posted news stories on Facebook. I’m certain the negative feedback for local media is not something new for area reporters, but sometimes I worry about loud voices shaping news content from what it should be to what certain individuals want to hear. Thankfully, it seems rare for local media to tailor content to simply satisfy their audience.

In my hometown, people loved complaining about the paper. No matter what they did, they apparently failed. The photo they ran was too graphic, the stories they covered were too boring and their opinion pieces always shared the opposite of what the reader thought. When I went off to college, people loved to complain about the local television station. The other stations always had the story before they did. They covered a neighboring state too often.

My high school years taught me a bit about journalism. As an employee at Hy-Vee, I’d often hear the older gentlemen gather at the cafe with a cup of coffee and the latest edition of the newspaper in hand, ready to complain about whatever they found on the page. Writing for the high school newspaper as the principal threatened to shut it down taught me just how important sharing news is for a community, even if it isn’t always well received. It’s an industry bursting with critics while reporters (ideally) try to do their best to tell the stories of the day, week or month.

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Let me preface these next few paragraphs with a note: Nobody from the Tribune staff has asked me to write about their newspaper. In fact, no one beyond my wife (except an occasional family member or friend) has ever even told me what to write about in this column. Any positive remarks made come from my observations and are completely unprompted.

A few weeks ago I found myself impressed while reading a column by Albert Lea Tribune’s Managing Editor Sarah Stultz where she shared how the newspaper ranked following a study by a research team at the Center for Small Towns at the University of Minnesota. She shared where the Tribune was succeeding and where the newspaper could expand its coverage to provide a better balance.

Sharing these findings and announcing a plan to develop content around what’s been discovered is a great sign the newspaper is following its mission to hold up an accurate mirror to the community. Certainly a mirror can reveal something you hadn’t noticed before, and sometimes a mirror can play tricks and deceive. A good media outlet does its best to reflect the truth in each of its stories, no matter the discomfort that may bring to a community.

I’ve noticed frequently that when a media outlet runs a story someone disagrees with, no matter how factual, they direct their anger on the media outlet rather than the subject of the story that made them upset in the first place. It certainly isn’t my role to dictate how people use the online comment sections on the media’s websites or on Facebook, but I think a community would be better off if they used these space to discuss the story rather than criticize the publication that wrote it.

Much like the older gentlemen gathered at Hy-Vee to read the newspaper over a cup of coffee, more and more people are gathering online to read the news of the day. The conversations are moving beyond the breakfast booth and into the social media sphere where strangers can now discuss the same story on Facebook, whether they live in Albert Lea or Alberta, Canada.

I encourage you to join in the conversations the local media is providing. Share your thoughts on the Tyrone Washington Jr. guilty verdict. Reveal something you learned about Albert Miller Lea. Cheer on youth participating in local sports and the local community theater production. Good conversations bring many opinions to the table. As someone not living in Albert Lea, the majority of reactions I receive about your local news come in the form of Facebook comments and letters to the editor. I have a feeling people have more to share than what I’m finding.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.