At the Tucson Sentinel, the focus is on keeping the community talking

Posted on October 26, 2011 by Janet Coats

Correction: I should have known better and caught this. Tucson was a two-newspaper town. The Citizen and the Arizona Daily Star made the city one of the most vibrant newspaper towns in the country, where two-newspaper towns are about as rare as hen's teeth these days.

While the Citizen closed, the morning Daily Star continues publication. The Sentinel has provided another voice in a community that for so long was blessed with two newspapers. I apologize to the great journalists at the Arizona Daily Star for the error in this earlier post; it is corrected below.

I've worked in a lot of different communities as a journalist. In some, you could write the most provocative stories and never hear a peep from your readers. In others, like Sarasota, my everyday life as editor was defined by the ongoing conversation I was having with my readers and my community.

When a city loses a newspaper, there is a risk that part of the dynamic conversation will go with it. Today, Kathleen Majorsky introduces you to a Block by Block publisher who wants to keep that conversation alive.

Block by Block is the Tucson Sentinel and its publisher Dylan Smith.

In 2009, Gannett shut down the Tucson Citizen, one of the city's two newspapers, after 138 years. The city's morning newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, continued to provide news and information for the city. But a voice was gone from the local news landscape.

“I along with some of my colleagues weren’t willing to see our city go with fewer and fewer sources of good information. We are a metropolitan area of about a million people and there are about 200 or so fewer journalists in this town than there were 5 or 6 years ago even as the city is growing. We think in order for a community to make wise decisions you have to be informed. You have to have someone out there asking tough questions,” Smith says.

Even though the hours are long and Smith would really like to pay his all-volunteer team, it is worth trying to build a vital, sustainable news operation that reflects the Tucson community. Their goals for the future of the Tucson Sentinel are what keep them going.

“To keep reporting good solid news that people trust. To have more people participate in the conversation on our website. To have a healthy debate and respectful conversation,” Smith says.

One small way that Smith accomplishes this is through the easy-to-use design of the site.

“I think it is important to make the information that people are trying to get at pretty easy to find,” says Smith.

With the city of Tucson growing at the rate it is, Smith finds it challenging to get the well-designed website in front of the eyes of more citizen. One key to overcoming that challenge: showing up.

“Physically being out there and going to a meeting, saying hi to a few people and shaking their hands. They recognize that you are out there actually reporting. It starts to mean something to the people that realize we’re showing up,” says Smith.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.