Every meeting is important. Ask Sharon Coolidge.

brownLast Sunday’s Cincinnati Enquirer was a goldmine for object lessons for my students.

On the front page of the Dec. 23 Enquirer, was a centerpiece that localized mental health accessibility in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting earlier this month.

Also on A1 was a story on Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati and plans for a $70 million facelift for the facility.

What I love about both of these is that they hit on two of my favorite subjects when I teach college journalists: Localizing big stories and sports as news.

I want to address both stories, but in this post, I am going to begin with Enquirer reporter Sharon Coolidge’s piece on a single mother’s struggle to get mental health treatment for her young son.

It isn’t that the writing is outstanding. It is. It isn’t that the story is gut-wrenching and compelling. It is that, too. What I like best about it, oddly, is the small editor’s note at the top of the story.

“This past summer Hamilton County commissioners slashed mental health funding so they didn’t have to raise taxes. Dozens of people spoke at a public hearing on the funding decision, begging commissioners to reconsider. Melissa Brown, a 40-year-old single mother of two boys, including Max, a mentally ill 11-year-old boy, was one of those people. She told them that without help Max could harm her and others. Reporter Sharon Coolidge was there and reached out to Brown after the Connecticut elementary school massacre. She shared her story and hundreds of paper of confidential medical records that chronicled Max’s disease.”

I don’t know Coolidge, but I am a fan now.

Why? Because Coolidge was doing what many would consider mundane workaday stuff this past summer. She was covering her beat. Committee hearings  and budgets. But she has the newsperson’s greatest asset: a keen memory.

When Sandy Hook went down, mental health issues became a front-and-center issue.  So she went to her notebook from a months-ago county commission hearing and tracked down Melissa Brown. And put a local face on a national issue.

Coolidge proves that no meeting, hearing or other part of a reporter’s beat isn’t important. Pay attention. Keep your notes. What if Coolidge had skipped that summertime hearing and instead written a “bright” or feature?

If your beat is the Student Senate, go to every meeting. If you cover your Board of Governors or Regents, go to every meeting, hearing and retreat. Without exception. It is rarely the fact that there was a meeting or even what happens at the meeting that produces stories. It is what you develop later from what happens there.


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