Whether it’s working at the Washington Post or covering local news stories in communities around Virginia, many alumni journalists see their jobs as practicing one of the purist forms of citizen leadership.
“No matter what type of journalism you are in, it’s a powerful tool to create change and to impact society for the better,” said HALLE PARKER ’18, who was editor-in-chief of The Rotunda while at Longwood. After graduating last year, she landed a job as the county government reporter for the Danville Register & Bee.
During her first week on the job, a 7-month old was abducted by her father from a Danville gas station and taken to North Carolina. The baby was found two days later, and Parker scored her first big story when she got an exclusive interview with the child’s mother about the ordeal.
“That’s what you call being thrown right into the fire,” Parker said.
TRACY AGNEW COOPER ’06, like Parker, began her career in local newspaper journalism shortly after graduating from Longwood. She was hired as a reporter for the Suffolk News-Herald in 2006, later was promoted to news editor and, in 2017, she became the editor.
“Community news is absolutely vital,” Cooper said. “We are the ones who are there covering kids’ sports and community events, and holding local leaders accountable.”
She started at the Suffolk paper at a time when the newspaper business model was on the precipice of a major shift. News outlets were beginning to pay more attention to their online presence and websites, social media was in its infancy, and publishers were looking for ways to replace traditional advertising revenue after Craigslist virtually killed classified ad sales.
Her paper is one of the success stories. “The Suffolk News-Herald is still going strong. Our readership has actually grown over the past few years—digital readership as well as print,” she said, adding that print readership is 30,000, and the website regularly has more than 100,000 unique visitors and gets 300,000 page views a month.
Still, local newsroom resources are tight. In her short time with the Danville newspaper, Parker has seen the number of reporters shrink from four to three—in a five-person newsroom that once employed 20. Photographers were among those cut, so Parker is responsible for taking photos and sometimes video when she reports a story. Her versatility as a multiplatform reporter gave her an advantage in the hiring process.
“I have social media experience, too, so the managing editor sought my advice on how to make our social media more engaging,” Parker said. “You have to make yourself as invaluable as possible in the current job market.”
Despite the thinning resources, Parker said she is still hopeful for the future. She hopes to one day report from overseas as a foreign correspondent. “I’m optimistic about the future of news because I know that people have to have it,” she said. “I view journalism as a public service. There’s always going to be a need for good storytellers.”