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Sarah Stultz: A reporter who wouldn’t give up on his town

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

 

I came across an article in the New York Times this week, shared online by a fellow journalist. The story caught my eye as it was about another journalist in Pennsylvania —  the only reporter remaining in his community for his once-proud newspaper.

This man, Evan Brandt, lives in a community a little larger than Albert Lea named Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The article described the newspaper he worked for, The Mercury, in what I imagine is a story similar to those of many other newspapers across the country.

At one time, the article said, “the newsroom had a phalanx of editors, three photographers, a few sports writers and several reporters writing hard news, soft features and in-depth investigative pieces.”

The newspaper fought for local government reform and the rights of crime victims and exposed deplorable conditions at a local institution for people with developmental disabilities, the New York Times article said.

The paper even won the Pulitizer Prize — journalism’s most esteemed recognition — two times. The first time was for essays by an editorial writer and the second time was for a photograph taken of a man who was on the loose and covered in blood after killing his pregnant wife and attacking two family members.

The article said over the years as people changed their reading habits and advertising sales disappeared, The Mercury with it also shrunk.

As staff declined, so did the remaining staff’s ability to cover the many things the newspaper once did.

Little by little, Brandt was the only one remaining and was responsible for covering more than a dozen local governments and school districts.

“He can’t bear to think of communities not knowing about a proposed tax increase, or the politics behind a town official’s ouster, or yet another public agency violating the open-meetings law by conferring in private,” the article said. “But it’s impossible to be everywhere.”

One day this year, he had seven newsworthy public meetings happening at the same time, and he was also juggling a congresswoman’s town hall meeting, a school district’s disproportionate suspension of students of color, plans for a new $8.2 million town building and a proposal for new homes and shopping centers.

The stress is too much to handle for some, but Brandt does not walk away — he can’t. He refers to it as his calling.

In many ways, I felt a kinship to this man as I read this article. He is pulled in many directions, and even though he is able to cover some of the important happenings in his community, there are always other meetings or events he wishes he could be writing about.

Many times we encounter the same thing here in Albert Lea when multiple events are happening, but we don’t physically have enough people to be at all of the events. But we try.

Though we cannot deny the newspaper industry has evolved, I argue it has never been more important than it is now. It still has the same potential it has always had for informing communities and changing lives.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.