This morning – our second to last day of class in Digital Storytelling – we had a class-wide Skype session with Paul Bass, editor and publisher of the New Haven Independent. Bass, who started the Independent in 2005, has since expanded it to a diverse digital platform that incorporates multimedia and audio stories with text, all with the aim of telling local stories about what’s happening in New Haven, Connecticut.
“It’s the nitty-gritty everyday [stories] I love,” Bass said. Telling local stories allows journalists to play a multifaceted role in their own communities, since they disseminate news to the public while also directly engaging with what’s going on. For that reason, Bass says it’s important to communicate biases and speak to people on all sides of a debate. This is a general rule in journalism, but is especially relevant when applied to local storytelling.
Throughout my career as a journalism student, I’ve found that I most often gravitate towards writing about the big picture. I subscribe to The Boston Globe and sometimes read a story or two from my hometown newspaper, The Herald Palladium, but I pay most attention to national and global stories. What I’ve learned this semester, however, is that approaching from the local angle is an important avenue through which to tell larger stories, like climate change, which can often by overwhelming when presented as a global problem.
Discussing local impacts like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and Massachusetts’ recent “King Tides,” as well as how local organizations and governments are dealing with changing conditions, may be key to telling the story of climate change in an approachable and understandable way. When it comes to climate change, “there are an infinite number of angles that are genuine local stories,” Bass said. As I’ve also learned in my Climate Change Communication course this semester, this encompasses everything from how local governments are responding to global change to how Boston restaurants and other small businesses are being affected by changing temperatures and ocean acidification.
Being able to cover all of these different angles is dependent on the participation of different local news sources, each of which are striving to develop a diverse audience. Bass says that today, most people rely on multiple sources of news that are easily accessible online. This is very different from the days of traditional journalism, when a single local newspaper was dropped off on everyone’s doorstep each day.
“We’ll never be as big as the newsrooms of old – I don’t think local news can be supported that way,” Bass said. Maybe that’s just as well. Telling a variety of local stories requires a diverse group of writers as well as a diverse audience, and the changing world of digital journalism lends itself well to a network of outlets, especially when it comes to telling complex stories like climate change.