News stories don’t have to be deep, investigative reports or articles that create legislative change to make an impact. It’s true that communities need watchdogs, but impact can be created by stories of all kinds, from notices of local road closures to human-interest stories about unknown neighbors and vibrant local residents.
For Evergreen, Colorado’s Canyon Courier, its stories of local kids and teens felt the most impactful.
The Courier previously produced features on local men and women doing work that was vital to the community, so it was a “natural progression” to compile stories on local youth who were doing equally impressive work for their neighbors, said news editor Deb Hurley Brobst.
“People saw [our] women’s series, “Women in Extraordinary Professions,” and appreciated seeing something different and unique,” added editor Michael Hicks. “It was a unique perspective for the community; [people] they don’t usually get to see.”
With full support from publisher Kristin Witt, the Courier team dove in and worked on a special pull-out section of the paper titled “Kids Who Will Change the World.”
“We started talking to principals, scout leaders, [and] youth leaders at churches, and we came up with a long list of names and what they had done,” Brobst explained. “Then we tried to make [the final list] as representative of the communities we serve.”
The final product featured 10 local children and teenagers who have worked in their communities to make a difference for others, whether through building homes for those in need or helping fellow students learn to read. Among those honored was a six-year-old boy, Shane, who likes to learn about science and technology and can often be found in the classroom helping fellow first graders with their computers.
Reporter Corinne Westeman, who interviewed Shane, noted, “He was kind of wary of me at first, like, ‘Who is this lady?’” But, she explained, “With kids, you just have to be ready. They’re either really talkative or incredibly shy.”
Working with the kids to tell their stories, though, was something that the Courier staff felt was necessary.
“We kind of live in a little snow globe, and I think sometimes [people] just don’t want to know the truth [about the world],” said Witt. “So, the nice thing about something like ‘Kids Who Will Change the World’ is that … we can give them true hope about our community.
“Of all the pieces we do, these are the stories I get phone calls about the most,” Witt added. “Phone calls from people I don’t necessarily work with or know who call to say, ‘I just wanted to tell you I loved reading that story.’”
As in any newsroom, it’s not all inspirational stories about the youth at the Canyon Courier. “We just did a [package] on suicide that was kind of heartbreaking to read,” Witt said. “But at the same time, there’s a whole lot of good stuff going on here.
“The thing I’m trying to do is bridge that gap,” she continued. “We don’t have a city government – only a county seat – so we need a place to have [these conversations] and a source for real news. [When we do stories like this,] I think people see that we’re not just reporting on the community, but we’re supporting the community.”
That balance between difficult news and lighter, community-focused features is something the Courier team has worked hard on. The staff also serve the neighboring local paper, the Clear Creek Courant, and they cover a large area of Colorado about 30 minutes outside of Denver, meaning the local paper really is the only source of community news in Evergreen. “If not for us, people wouldn’t get the news they need about what’s happening in their area,” Hicks said. “There is no other option here.”
But being the only option for readers doesn’t mean the Courier staff take their jobs any less seriously. “I got really lucky getting this job,” said staff writer Alissa Noe.
“The thing I really love is the ability we have to really get to know our community,” Brobst added. “What we do is so important, and I’m so grateful to have a job that lets me explore my curiosities.”
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.