A few days ago, a story in my Facebook news feed caught my eye. It was a Q&A in The Awl with Jonathan Austin, the owner of a small weekly in Yancey County, N.C. — the Yancey County News. With his wife, Susan, Jonathan runs a paper that recently received both the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.
The award entries exposed remarkable corruption in Yancey County: elections fraud, abuse of arrest powers and the pawning of county-owned firearms by the deputy sheriff. Judges of the Ancil Payne award called the Austins’ work “an extraordinary example of serving the public good.”
These awards are big. But Yancey County is small.
It’s not far, in fact, from the N.C. mountain town where my student newspaper operates. We’ve often used the excuse that our town is just too small for big journalism. “If we were in Chapel Hill, we could do what The Daily Tar Heel does,” we’ll say. “There’s just not enough going on here.”
The Yancey County News is proof that our excuse just doesn’t hold water. I thought Jonathan might have some wisdom to share for student journalists, so I asked him a few questions over email.
Read below for Jonathan’s thoughts on journalism in the trenches: making your own resources, finding your own stories and allowing your brain to engage. Continue reading