January 24, 2017

Toward the end of last year, Tiffany Stevens started to feel disheartened about being a journalist. Callers to The Roanoke Times were often angry about coverage. People at a parade turned hostile when they learned Stevens was a reporter. And everywhere, there were stories of local and national journalists who were harassed for doing their jobs.

For one public safety reporter, it felt like people didn’t care if something was true or not. It felt like no one understood why they needed the press.

Stevens, who is non-binary and uses the singular “they” pronoun, has covered crime, local politics, public safety and breaking news at three newsrooms in Georgia and Virginia. And now, as part of a side project, Stevens is looking into local news, two cities at a time.

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Stevens’ newsletter, Happening at Home, digs into two newspapers each week for inspiration, story ideas and proof that good local journalism is still out there.

“I personally felt like I needed to remind myself that there were other reporters that were doing great work and digging into issues on the local level,” they said.

Every week, using a random generator, Stevens gets to know the issues of the two cities, often following links or searches for context along with the latest news. So far, those newspapers include The Virginian-Pilot, the Arizona Daily Star, Memphis’ The Commercial Appeal and The Oklahoman.

The newsletter, which comes out on Sundays, offers a couple of things – reconnection with local journalists and local issues, a sense of how connected many issues are, and the chance, if you’re a reporter, to find new story ideas yourself.

The project is giving Stevens a respite from random browsing, but it’s also a good reminder that national events trickle down locally and vice-versa. That’s true for issues facing communities and issues facing journalists.

So far, slightly more than 150 people have subscribed to the newsletter. This week, Stevens is visiting Tampa and Baton Rouge virtually. The open rate for a recent edition was nearly 65 percent — way above the average rate for a media newsletter.

In addition to finding ambitious reporting, such as The Oklahoman’s project leading up to the inauguration and local podcasts, Stevens has also found similarities in the issues different cities are facing at the same time. Those include concerns about clean water in both Chesapeake and Tucson, and editorials from both papers reminding readers of the power of transparency.

“It’s definitely reinforcing that, regardless of the negativity,” they said, “a lot of reporters are still trying to get through the day and find interesting stories from their home towns.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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