Trials and tribulations of small town journalism

As a newspaperman who covers the courts and government for the local paper in a small town and rural county, the odds are strong that I will write about people I know.

Sometimes I even have to write about myself.

I’ve had to write about people I know when they are charged with a crime, involved in a lawsuit or mixed up with something that becomes news. This week’s Floyd Press involves one story about someone I know and another where a list of appointments by the county board of supervisors included my reappointment as the county’s representative to an advisory board.

When I worked for newspapers in cities or national publications, I seldom knew the subjects of my stories.

It’s never easy to write stories that delve into someone’s personal life. When that person is someone you know it adds to the discomfort. Journalists try to be dispassionate about subjects of their story but it’s not easy. I’ve lost friends who have become subjects of stories, lost business over some stories and have been threatened more times than I can count.

Every jury that is seated in Floyd County includes at least one person that I know and one included a relative. I have to be extremely careful to not abuse those relationships.

In some cases, I’ve removed myself from a story when it became a clear conflict of interest.

But if I removed myself from every story that involved someone I know, I wouldn’t have much work left. I have a job to do and I try to do it as best I can. Working at it in a rural area where most people know each other can make it more difficult.

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