As journalists, our goal is to report stories that have an impact.
Whether we’re writing about a family’s struggle with a loved one’s disease or a town’s struggle to rein in its budget, we want our stories to matter.
But these days, with newsrooms everywhere struggling to adapt in the face of layoffs and budget cuts, we can’t always put the same amount of resources on a story as we once could.
But just because we now have to choose our battles carefully doesn’t mean we aren’t still up for a fight. One thing that hasn’t changed in newsrooms here and elsewhere is the determination and resourcefulness of journalists who believe that informing the public about what’s happening in their communities is important work.
At The Press, when we believe a topic is important but needs to be better understood, we create “impact teams” of reporters, editors and photographers to focus on the issue. We use those teams as opportunities to examine issues from as many sides as possible, highlight the obstacles to improvement, and show some of the real-world solutions that are making a difference.
Last year Executive Editor Kris Worrell formed a group that examined poverty and childhood hunger in South Jersey, which has some of the highest levels of food insecurity in the state. Before the group was finished — it worked for more than a year, publishing monthly — the team put a face on an issue we don’t often consider, even though we see it daily in our stores, towns and schools.
Their work culminated with an investigation into the major shortcomings of the former food stamp program. (To read the series, go to www.pressofac.com/hunger.)
Education professionals rallied around the coverage and have used it to educate staff, parents and students. The New Jersey Press Association and the Associated Press Media Editors recognized it with journalism honors.
This year, as the poverty team has disbanded, a new team has formed to look at the devastating impact of domestic violence on our families and communities. That series, “Breaking the Cycle,” is already underway (to catch up on our stories, go to www.pressofac.com/breaking-the-cycle.)
The decision to explore domestic violence was made in late 2016 after a series of homicides left communities in Atlantic and Cumberland counties reeling.
In each case, the victims were swept up in the rage of their former spouses or boyfriends. Oftentimes the comments from readers, such as “why didn’t she just leave?” seemed logical to outsiders. But as our reporting has revealed, the victims, while not bound by ropes, are often tied to their abusers through emotions, finances, children and sometimes even the courts.
Our stories have focused on the difficulties of prosecuting domestic violence — 80 percent of cases are dismissed in New Jersey. We’ve also profiled those on the front lines — the volunteers, the abused and even abusers.
We hope that our reporting can help increase awareness of abuse and help the effort to find solutions to domestic violence.
Forming teams to pursue specific topics helps us dive deeper into newsworthy issues. The collaboration can lead to more focused reporting and greater impact. It’s one of the ways we’re adapting to still provide meaningful stories in the face of the changing demands and challenges.
W.F. Keough is managing editor of The Press of Atlantic City.