Your newsroom might be small. You should still think big.

May 2, 2019

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here

The Durango (Colorado) Herald’s team of reporters is basically the size of a nuclear family. Last summer, including an intern, they had five people.

For several months, reporter Mary Shinn and freelance audio journalist Sarah Flower worked together on solutions journalism coverage of the crisis of youth suicide in La Plata County, “the second leading cause of death in the country for people between 15 and 24,” the project’s prologue begins.

You can read about how that tiny newsroom took on such a big issue today, and then check out the specific strategies, wins and losses from the project over at API’s Better News.

But first, a few lessons from how they did it:

  1. Set ambitious deadlines: “You will do more than you think is humanly possible to hit a deadline,” Shinn said. Even if you don’t hit that deadline with something comprehensive, you’ll get much further than you would have otherwise, she said.
  2. Play a long game: Shinn said she knew they’d have an intern over the summer and that would give her more flexibility to pull back from daily news.
  3. Get advice before you start: Covering suicide is tough, and coverage of it can often alienate groups working on prevention. Shinn and Flower both sought advice from experts on the language they used and how they spoke with families before starting their reporting. (Here’s one of Poynter’s resources on coverage.)
  4. Make the most of all the assets available to small newsrooms right now, including grants, said Claudia Laws, audience development manager for Ballantine Communications, which owns the Herald.
  5. You’re not too small. Don’t think like it: The Herald got help from the Seattle Times to create a thoughtful commenting template, partnered with several community radio stations to publish the audio part of the project and created a resource site for the community that takes minimal maintenance.