Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When reporters cover tough topics… January 31, 2019


THE NEXT TIME YOU CRITICIZE a journalist or rant that reporters are nothing but a bunch of biased writers, consider this. My local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, recently placed first in the Social Issues category of the 2017-2018 Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest. For a series on domestic violence.

The award-winning series, titled “Abuse,” published over a period of a year and covered the gamut from information to interviews with survivors and their families, advocates, police and more. These were powerful pieces, written primarily by reporter Gunnar Olson but also by Regional Editor Suzanne Rook.

It is the personal stories which made this series. Emotional stories. Gut-wrenching, difficult stories. Stories that needed to be told, heard, written, read and, then, remembered.



When a reporter can take a topic like domestic abuse and violence, interview people in a caring and compassionate way, and then share those stories through dynamic writing, that work deserves recognition. By fellow journalists. And by readers. I applaud the Daily News for raising awareness, educating and connecting people to this social issue via deeply personal stories.

As a former weekly and daily newspaper reporter, I will confirm that writing stories like this is difficult. I once wrote a series on eating disorders that included interviewing a survivor and the mother of a young woman who died from anorexia. Although I kept my professional persona in place while working on the series, inside my heart hurt for every single individual I interviewed. Reporters have a job to do. But they are still human.

I often hear newspapers criticized for printing nothing but bad news. That raises my ire. Do not kill the messenger. Newspapers are not PR mouthpieces. They are newspapers. It is their job to report the news—good and bad. Features and hard news. They do not cause the bad news. People do.

Today, more than ever, journalists are under attack. For writing fake news. For not writing something they should have or for writing something they shouldn’t have. They are losing their jobs. The free press is threatened. That should scare every single person. Democracy needs a strong and free press.

Yes, I’ve sidetracked a bit. But I’ll circle back now and reaffirm how much I appreciate my community newspaper. Reporters keep me informed of local issues and happenings, of good news and bad. I am grateful for their hard work and their willingness to stretch beyond the everyday news to cover important topics. Like domestic violence.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “When reporters cover tough topics…”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    I truly appreciate well written reports …… especially when great attention has been given to its structure/grammar/spelling, etc which, for me, become “hurdles” to my enjoyment of the reading. As to “fake news”/writings based on an emotional perspective that cannot help but skew the content to the point of losing what little truth/reality could have been conveyed, I find that there are sources known for this type of journalism and I stay clear of them. Generally, newspapers, such as your local one, provides a higher quality of content and is a joy to read. Our small town has had a very small “newspaper” published (and mostly written) by a local gal. We subscribed up until a couple of years ago at which point we observed that it seemed to have become her personal platform for sharing “her” slant on most every topic. Reporting the “what had happened/is happening” gave way to several pages of “op ed”. Whether we agreed with her, or not, was not the issue but begged the question: is this a NEWSpaper or a printing of coffeeshop conversation of her point of view.
    Thanks so much for making the point that quality writing/journalism IS alive and well in today’s society!!!

    • First, I’m sorry about the demise of your community newspaper to more opinion than covering the news. Something in a small town is lost when that happens.

      Second, you are correct in making the distinction between quality journalism and outlets that don’t really fit the definition of covering the news. Most of us are smart enough to read the difference.

  2. Free press is the voice of democracy! Congratulations to your local newspaper journalist on their award.

  3. Bernadette Says:

    Thanks for adding to the recognition of quality journalism in your local newspaper. As a former reporter I agree with your comments, particularly the one about being criticized for reporting only “bad” news. Journalists don’t make the news, they report it and they do so because people need to know about it. Thanks for standing up for hard-working and fair journalists.

    • I will always stand up for hard-working and fair journalists.

      You understand first-hand the responsibilities of journalists, just as I do. I expect, like me, you worked incredibly long hours at low pay to do a job about which you were passionate. I always worked hard to gather and present the facts in a quality piece of writing. Thank you for your ongoing support of journalists and for your past contributions to a free press.

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Amen. News is a product, consumers bear the responsibility of being discerning consumers, especially in this era of social media and because of it. Then, think and act accordingly. Live without the education of a free press? I think they call it Russia and Germany under Hitler. Congratulations to the FDN reporters!

  5. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    I share your sentiments that we need a free press and reporters have been absolutely attacked in so many ways recently. Well, not just recently. Every time someone reads something they don’t agree with, reporters are at risk of being accused of unfairness, bias, lies, etc. If we would just all pause for a moment and consider the public service that reporters perform and how our society would look without the chance to present a story’s facts regardless of who likes or dislikes them, perhaps we would find a renewed appreciation for a free press.

    I should say congratulations to the Faribault Daily News, of course. Nicely done!

  6. Valerie Says:

    What a crucial series for the Faribault Daily News to focus on. Congratulations for their award.

  7. Sheri Eichhorn Says:

    What a lovely acknowledgement of our local paper. It is important to appreciate the services we have available in our community. Thank you for reminding me.

    • Thank you and you are welcome. We can’t take our community newspapers for granted. I know these reporters, editors and other staffers work hard to keep us informed. They need to be valued more for their hard work and efforts.

  8. There really are true reporters and journalists around and I think sometimes they live in places like Faribault. 🙂 It is disheartening to see how reporting sometimes get more into personal op ed pieces than true reporting and journalism. I am glad your hometown paper still has the right idea. Our little paper here is pretty good at reporting events and area interest stories but maybe not a lot of in depth articles .

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