116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
How do Gazette reporters put together a story?
Journalists show up, listen to different viewpoints and verify information to tell stories of the communities they serve
Relationships are what Marissa Payne, The Gazette’s city government reporter in Cedar Rapids, relies on to inform her stories.
Payne said she knows it’s asking a lot from people to have confidence in the reporting process, especially when they don’t see the time spent building those relationships, interviewing and fact-checking. She works hard to gain the trust of her sources and learn what’s important to her audience, showing up in-person as often as she can and meeting regularly with city officials for coffee and lunch.
“We’re not doing this in a silo. We’re out in the field, studying the things we’re writing about and informing the public,” said Payne, who is “genuinely curious” when asking questions.
When working on a story, Payne said she approaches things very analytically and tries to be transparent about her intentions. Her story ideas often come from city council agendas, public comments, community organizations and conversations with residents.
“Often, I can see both sides of an issue,” she said. ”Especially in our current political climate, I feel like people have a set opinion and point of view. If our news report doesn’t align with their existing beliefs, it’s upsetting to them. They don’t understand why we framed a story a certain way.“
“It’s fair to hold us accountable or ask questions of us if there’s a lack of understanding of our work,” said Payne, who often takes the time to talk to people about her reporting process. “Being a journalist is not an easy job. We do this because we care about our communities. "
The Gazette’s investigative reporter, Erin Jordan, is looking for “high-impact stories," oftentimes where a regulatory body didn’t work the way it should have and, because of that, something happened that was not good for Iowans, she said.
Many of her stories are “document heavy,” she said. She gathers data from state or federal agencies, or communication trails like emails obtained through public information requests. From there, she’s interviewing officials and people impacted.
Jordan wants to “hear all sides” of a story and include reporting on potential solutions.
“We’re not putting something out there that’s half-baked,” said Jordan, commenting on the time and energy Gazette reporters put into verifying information. “We have a high threshold of what we require before we put information in articles.”
“That time is our salaries,” Jordan said. “There’s a cost associated with the work we do. It’s hard when people don’t put a value on that and don’t want to support it with a subscriptions — online or print.”
Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News, which works to empower journalists to demonstrate credibility and earn trust every day, said being a news consumer is “overwhelming and complicated.” Reporters need to have a “more honest conversation” with their readers about how they tell their stories and why, she said.
News organizations cannot cover as many stories as they used to, Mayer said. While readers may assume this is because reporters don’t care, it’s really because there are fewer reporters than there used to be.
Research suggests readers think the local news business “is in fine shape,” Mayer said. “People would be more likely to pay for the news if they understood the situation is not as rosy as people think,” she said.
However, with less advertising revenue, news organizations are relying on revenue from subscribers more than in the past, Mayer said.
Reporters also need to examine their “blind spots” by asking their community whose voice is missing in their reporting, what journalists get wrong and what they want to read about, Mayer said. They “owe answers” to their community about why they are prioritizing what stories are covered, she said.
Gazette copy editor Rae Riebe said reporters can miss things because of downsizing. “That’s why it’s so important to engage the public and get them to call or email when they know something,” she said.
Riebe has worked a cumulative of 30 years at The Gazette, bringing decades of experience to the newsroom. She specializes in writing funny headlines when it’s appropriate, she said. She considers herself an “advocate for the reader,” working to “make things clearer” by adding explanations or rewording a sentence.
“Our mission today is to give the most complete and accurate reporting we can with our time constraints,” Riebe said. “I’ve had people accuse us of being a party paper … We’re a paper that presents different viewpoints.”
Riebe prepares content for the inside pages of the newspaper, finds stories from the wire and proofreads the pages before they go to print. She also works on special sections for The Gazette, including Hoopla, a weekly entertainment section.
Stephen Schmidt, a digital editor at The Gazette, said he tries to get “as many eyes on the reporter’s work as possible.”
For a long time, Schmidt said it felt like The Gazette’s print and digital products were “competing with each other.”
“Often, they’re completely different audiences,” he said. “A lot of our paper readers might not care the website exists, and a lot of our digital readers maybe haven’t opened a newspaper in years.”
When reporters are finished with a story that is breaking news or competitive, they inform Schmidt, who gives the story a quick read and publishes it online as quickly as possible. The story is then circulated on The Gazette’s social media channels. It is later edited for print.
“You’re trying to be urgent, and also steady with it. You don’t want to introduce inaccuracies. You have to juggle a lot in a very short period of time,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt is working on ways for The Gazette to reach digital audiences more intentionally. One method is a daily podcast and newsletter. He’s also thinking about how to engage younger audiences by considering whether The Gazette would be a good fit for platforms like YouTube or TikTok, a short-form, video-sharing app.
“There’s a lot of noise out there, and (news) is maybe not the most sexy or glamorous stuff,” said Schmidt, who calls himself a “cheerleader” to help the audience “get to the excellent work we do.”
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