CAMP 2017: Doing more with less in community journalism

Story by Brooke Lewis, 2017 JAWS Fellow

Amy Wu wants others to know they can do it too. When the veteran journalist began working at The Salinas Californian more than a year and a half ago, she faced a daunting task.

She wondered if she could carry the responsibility of covering a city as she watched her newsroom shrink to only two reporters.

“I have a passion for community journalism and local and regional news outlets, which is why I decided to do this session,” Wu said. “I really believe that community and local news serves a really critical purpose in different cities and counties, especially as newsrooms in general are shrinking.”

Wu led a panel the morning of Sunday, Oct. 29, during Journalism and Women Symposium’s CAMP 2017 in Hot Springs, Ark. She shared tips on how to be an effective reporter with limited resources in a small newsroom.

The journalist, who now works for the Poughkeepsie Journal, spoke from her own experience working in a small newspaper in California. When Wu went to work for her newspaper in February 2016, she watched as it slowly downsized. The Salinas Californian was at one point the largest newspaper in Salinas Valley and had 150 people working for it, according to Wu.

However in the months she worked at the paper, the newspaper went from publishing seven days a week to only three days a week. The building was sold and employees were told to work from home or at a local Starbucks.

But Wu decided not to give up or back down, and instead figure out a way to make the situation work. “I knew what the dangers were in these changes, but I decided to focus on the opportunity,” Wu said.

She began attending city council meetings regularly, wanting to make her presence known as a reporter in the community in the hopes of building connections and a steady source list.

Wu also walked the streets of the city, talked with business owners and went into coffee shops to see what events were happening around town.

“People would start calling me on my cell phone and texting me, saying, ‘Hey, there is this interesting event going on,’ or ‘Hey, this is happening’,” Wu said. “It establishes credibility in your community to be there.”
Wu urged other journalists in the audience to get comfortable with embracing the changes in the newsroom instead of running from them. She did this by diving first into using digital to enhance her stories, teaching herself to use Facebook Live to cover events in the community.

She also continued to pursue ambitious projects, working on a story about minority women entrepreneurs in agriculture tech and receiving funding for the story from International Center for Journalists.

“What’s worked for me is to not fixate on how things used to be all the time,” Wu said. “I believe that you can do amazing things in today’s newsroom, (and) you can do it with one or two people.”