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All the news that makes us fit

Sunday in the Park

By Teri Orr
Park Record columnist

It is lonely work. Most of the time it is simply sharing information others might not have. Sometimes it might be bolder-stating/creating an opinion, clearly marked as such, and urging some action. The writing comes only after hours, sometimes days or weeks, even months, of quiet investigation that can lead nowhere. The truth can be illusive, buried, unpopular.

The journalist pursues it anyway. Often at great personal cost. And it takes a courageous editor, publisher, general manager to support the story against the odds and remember the unspoken oath all journalists have whispered: to get to the bottom of the story, to shed light in dark corners, to stand up to the bullies — whether they be in city hall or a corporate building or a drug dealer in a dark alley. To find people to share their stories about loss and grief and fear and really bad guys in hope of focusing attention on change. Perhaps some justice.

This was a huge week for the little guy in journalism, for the folks working outside of major metropolitan cities, even freelance folks, who were awarded by the Pulitzer Prize committee for their courageous work.

Campus rape required gaining the trust, first, of the violent crime survivors from the high-profile campuses of BYU and Utah State University. Brave victims and sensitive photographers and tenacious, thoughtful reporters, peeled back layers of the injustice and cultural walls and religious institutions to tell the honest story of an epidemic of campus rape in Utah. The Salt Tribune, a paper that came as close to folding in the last five years as a paper could, kept doing the work anyway. And with a brave new publisher, they were encouraged to keep telling the stories that needed telling. Local Reporting. That the Pulitzer prize committee recognized the collective bravery it took to tell those stories, in this state and tell them fairly and well, is something we can all celebrate.

A freelance photojournalist took raw photos of an inhumane government crackdown in the Philippines on drug dealers and users. He submitted his work to the New York Times who bravely published them. But the freelancer, Daniel Berehulak, is who was awarded the prize for his Breaking News Photography.

Breaking News reporting was awarded to the East Bay Times in Oakland (a former sister publication of the Park Record). They covered the tragic story of the “Ghost Ship” in the warehouse fire that killed 36 people at a party and then they “exposed the city’s failure to have taken actions that might have prevented it.”

In West Virginia, the Charleston Gazette Mail received the award for Investigative Reporting “for courageous stories in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into the depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.” That one hits close home. This paper, too, has continued, for years now, brave coverage of the topic of drug deaths against opposition.

Yes, there were awards to the big dogs: Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and The New Yorker. But it was the Editorial Writing of Art Cullen, of The Storm Lake Times in Iowa, (who beat out the Washington Post guy) who caught my eye.

No less than The Guardian, that great paper across the pond, reported this — recognized the tiny family-run paper with a staff of 10 people, most of whom are related to each other, for winning a Pulitzer Prize by taking on powerful agricultural companies over farm pollution. The editor and father, Art Cullen, said to The Guardian, “We’ve always believed that [we] should be as good at covering Storm Lake as the New York Times is at covering New York.” How incredibly brave to write editorials against corporate farming in a state that depends upon it. What great risk it took to lose advertisers and chose the truth.

Years ago, we “in the business” were all afraid there was no future for local news. No one would buy the paper/turn on the radio. The internet news and 24-hour streamed radio would command all the attention the average person could devote to news. But now we find local news more critical than ever to understanding community, to shaping and celebrating and mourning community. Small town journalism is the very backbone of creating and maintaining community.

Right now, our local public radio station, KPCW, is in the throes of selecting a new general manager for the station — a station built by a person who fiercely loved the news and always stuck their neck out and took on giants and embraced human interest stories with equal measure.

Blair Fuelner set a tone for all journalists locally and we all learned from Blair. We encourage the committee to be fearless in selecting a journalist to serve as general manager who can lead by example, who is full of curiosity and tenacity and understanding that local journalism is the most naked and important critical tool needed for an accountable government and engaged community to succeed.

We are watching the selection process with hope and curiosity and sideline enthusiasm, because news matters.

The bold selections by this year’s Pulitzer committee sent a message loud and clear: Journalism matters most in small communities, where brave people face down bullies and even corporate giants and report the story anyway.

If you know any of the staff at the Salt Lake Tribune, send them a note and tell them you are proud of the work done by our daily local paper. Hell, even if you don’t know them, send them a note. They may not know you, but they are reporting for you, anyway, every day, even Sunday in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

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