When I took this job in Staunton, I was also excited about the proximity to Washington DC. Three months ago, I had never been to our nation's capital. So I was excited when, for an assignment, Laura Peters and I were sent there, following a local group for the anti-abortion March for Life rally. Laura and I found a really sweet, rambunctious group from Waynesboro that we followed the whole day — the Meek family. It was really nice to find such a genuine and welcoming group, especially when we were focusing on such a hot-button topic.
I was especially glad that we went to the rally in DC because I feel like, honestly, that sometimes the media doesn't care to cover some more conservative issues. And I realize that some ideas are sort of out there and radical and maybe only a certain percentage of the population, say, believes that global warming doesn't exist. But this event was a really big deal and it is a movement that a lot of people believe in. It doesn't matter if I agree with it or not — if it's something I believe our readers care about and think it's a big enough issue that affects our coverage area, then that's enough criteria for me.
My job isn't to just focus on issues that I care about — it's to highlight the issues that my community cares about, and that's a variety of things. And though I did get into journalism so I can focus and spread awareness on issues that I think are important, that's not the only thing I should do.
My goal in all of my journalistic endeavors is to present a point of view from a viewpoint that others can understand. The stories I've done — stories about transgender people, militia groups, off-the-grid eco-friendly communities — cover the entire political spectrum, so I'm not consistent on liberal or conservative issues, and I'm glad for that. But no matter how I feel about an issue, my goal is to always use a subject that, even if you may not agree with them, you can see where they're coming from.
And I feel like that's why the Meek family was so special and a breath of fresh air on this abortion issue, which can be so knee-jerk. Multiple members of the family had experiences in their lives that lead to their decision about abortion — David is one of 12 brothers and sisters, the youngest of which had Downs syndrome, a type of child he believes many women are encouraged to abort nowadays. And Christi, who married into the Meek family, can't bear children — to her, the ability to have a child is a gift. So even though everyone may not agree that they have the "right" opinion, what's important is that I think everyone can understand why they have it.
I think advocacy journalism is so important, but for those of us that work for community newspapers or smaller local coverage, covering all sides of the issue is important. And it's even more important, on tough issues such as this, to present them in a way that's not just "here is this opinion, and here is that one." Without empathy and understanding of a subject, why are you even covering the topic to begin with?