A Model of Excellence for Weekly Newspapers in Iowa
Duncan, Amy K.
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Weekly newspapers are what people read to find out their local news. While The Des Moines Register and the like cover the "big" news of the day - Haiti, Somalia, health care -it is the weekly newspapers that bring people the most local news - city council reports, the features on local heroes and the information on how the "big" news affects their small communities. But there is little in existing research to tell us what exactly is the charge of weekly newspapers, and even less telling us how well they live up to this charge. This thesis starts by reporting the results of a survey of 100 editors of Iowa weekly newspapers to determine which weekly newspapers in Iowa are considered the best, what the best weekly newspapers in Iowa do well, and what all weekly newspapers in Iowa do well. From the responses to this survey, it is easy to determine that Iowa weekly editors believe that weekly newspapers should present mostly local news, they should do it honestly and accurately, and they should package it attractively. But while this offers a snapshot of what the quality weekly should strive for, it provides little information on how weekly newspapers achieve those goals. The second portion of the thesis, consisting of visits to four of Iowa's top weekly newspapers as identified in the first part of the thesis and surveys of their staffs, illuminates the path those four newspapers have taken to excellence. Generally, these papers rely on strong staffs with college educations in journalism to lead their newspapers. Their newsrooms are independent operations, supported by management and protected from the influence of powerful people and advertisers in the community. At the same time, they exist primarily in well-educated communities and have tried to educate their readers, as well as themselves, to recognize and appreciate good journalism.
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