By Megan Avery
A meeting adjourns in Washington D.C. The representatives of this country pour into a sea of journalists. Cameras flash. Questions are hurtled through the air. The contents of the meeting will be on the air and web in minutes. This is the hustle of national reporting that Meha Ahmad left.
Ahmad worked as a D.C. correspondent for years. Now, she works as the executive producer for WEBZ’s Reset. Ahmad’s career move is different than most. Journalists usually start in smaller, local markets before advancing to bigger areas of the country.
“You can work for a national outlet and the story that you’re covering is Ukraine,” Ahmad says. “And that does not tell, you know, a Chicago resident who’s driving to pick up their kids why and how it impacts them.”
Local journalism has seen an uptick in importance in recent years. The digital sphere of the internet allows people who could never see local news to receive it for free. The Medill Local News Initiative wrote an article about the rise in local journalism in Chicago. Organizations like Block Club Chicago, WBEZ, and the Better Government Association are focusing more on the local aspects.
Without these organizations, stories like the misconduct of Park District employees might have gone unnoticed.
“And that’s the role that local media plays,” says Ahmad, “It is explaining to the news consumer and helping them understand where they fit in this big story.”
Chicago is a city full of news. Big stories emerge almost every day about corruption and changes. For the average citizen, it’s a lot to digest. The journalists of this city break down the news into pieces the audience can understand.
Chicago’s elected officials have eyes on them everywhere. Local reporting shines in smaller towns. Ahmad says, “It’s usually local politics that see the most corruption because that’s where a lot of times it kind of goes under the radar.” Smaller markets bank on the busy and understaffed news teams to leave that sleeping bear alone.
As journalists, our dedication is to seek and tell the truth. That responsibility skews when we also have to fit the news in the culture of a location. National news tends to focus on getting a story out first. There is a mad dash after every big event.
Local reporting doesn’t need to be the first. Many stories highlighted on Reset have already been reported on. Ahmad and her team are more concerned about why.
Ahmad stresses that both types—local and national—are critical. “I actually encourage everybody to do both, at some point.” The journalistic skills needed and experience for each category are different. Yet it is crucial that someone is covering the latest Presidential Address while someone else is covering a local town hall.
“But if you’re looking to help people make sense of their day to day lives in the place they live,” Ahmad says, “I feel like local news, you can’t do better than that.”
We’re all after the same goal, just in different places.