I have a lot to write and say about my three-week-old Community Outreach team, and how we’re hoping to expand the boundaries of traditional definitions of journalism and keep the focus of the Columbia Missourian squarely on the community it serves.
But today, I have to take just a few minutes to share the project that I’m most excited about to date.
In assessing our newsroom’s coverage plans for the 9/11 anniversary, we decided we wanted to stay focused on real people and real conversations. A couple of students wanted to put together tips for parents on how to talk to young children about 9/11, during a weekend when scary images and stories would be hard to avoid. So Lexa Deckert and Charesse James did the interviews and wrote a story. I think it’s pretty good.
And then we turned the information into a two-page handout (downloadable on the left side of the story, and right here) and distributed it around town. We’ve handed out about 400 so far, at the public library, daycare centers, popular kid spots and coffee shops. We have plans to take a few hundred more to kids soccer picture day tomorrow and a few other spots.
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The handout has been received as it was intended — as a public service. One person asked if we wanted to charge her to leave the flyers. A few asked if it would be okay to make more copies if they ran out, or if we could email a digital version. A few others expressed surprise and asked if this was the kind of thing the Missourian often did. One community center said they weren’t allowed to post anything not provided by the city. But in general, people are taking them and thanking us for them.
On purpose, we did not link back to the more complete story our website. The goal is not to drive page views. It’s to provide a community service, and be seen as a community resource.
In our morning news meeting, one editor asked if we’d consider seeking sponsorship for something like this in the future. I think it’s worth talking about, as are so many angles of the project.
For now, I’m really excited that there will be 800 pieces of paper floating around town, with information designed to make families’ lives easier this weekend.