I found something I was looking for the other day - a bit of free time. I grabbed my dog, Iro, drove to Auke Lake, and walked down the Auke Lake Trail in the waning sunset hours.
The sound of cars driving past quickly faded away, absorbed by the thick old-growth forest. It was a clear evening, not a cloud in sight, and we had the trail mostly to ourselves.
We meandered down the way, admiring all the different shades of green moss and lichen, draping the hemlocks. Squirrels chattered and birds called as we stopped at the dock to admire the water’s reflection, and wonder at the lake’s depths and the world beneath.
Past the dock, we stopped along the water’s edge and looked for otters. We continued on our way toward the marked eagle’s nest, looked down in a boggy area just off a trail bridge and found sea shells embedded in rock. A little trail sign informed me the shells were thousands of years old, and evidence of an ancient ocean beach. In fact, the sign said, if I had been standing in this exact spot 8,000 years ago, and looked up, a seal could have swam past.
It’s a marvelous thing what you can learn when you stop and listen to the world around you.
In a newsroom, it’s easy to think that we are listening. Our cellphones are going off constantly, beeping with notifications about urgent things. Our email inboxes are flooded daily with press releases and prepared statements. And of course, there are daily deadlines to meet.
But how much of that is just noise, like the sound of those cars driving by on the highway? And what — or who — are we drowning out?
In the process of producing the news, newspeople oftentimes leave out the most important part - our readers.
Readers can play an active, participatory role in the news; “readers” are not just readers. They shape what makes the news by sharing what local news is important to them and what they want to see in the paper. They write letters, columns, articles and take photos. They fact check. They research. They provide invaluable news tips. They are potential news sources. They let us know what (or who) seems corrupt and should be investigated.
During my editorship, I hope to further foster these sorts of relationships between the Empire and the people of Juneau.
A good first step, I think, is soliciting feedback. In the coming weeks, you can expect to see surveys in the newspaper and online, asking how you think we are doing, what you think we could do better, what you like about the Empire and what you think needs improvement. I’m officially calling this effort, which I hope to detail and provide updates on in later columns, the Empire’s Listening Tour. (If you can’t wait for a survey, feel free to contact me now at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 523-2263.)
We’ve already made a few small strides in listening and being responsive to our readers’ requests.
For example, some parents expressed wanting more, timely local high school sports coverage, so we recently launched a Juneau Sports Facebook page. It features live and timely local sports news and game coverage; you can check it out at Facebook.com/JuneauSports.
In another instance, a City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member emailed us, requesting a story highlighting the Polaris House, a local organization providing services for those with mental health issues, for Mental Health Awareness Month. We thought that was a great suggestion, and did just that.
One more example: Two unrelated groups of Juneau residents reached out, requesting a platform to raise awareness for issues important to them. Both groups are now writing a once-a-month column in the opinion section, penned by a rotating group of their contributors. The first Juneau STEM Coalition article about science, technology, engineering and math in the capital city was published Friday. Likewise, “Sustainable Alaska” written by University of Alaska Southeast Sustainability Committee members who wanted to promote conservation, made its debut earlier this month.
The Empire prides itself in being a community newspaper, with news written about Juneau, by Juneau residents, for Juneau residents. I’m looking forward to beginning this journey as editor, and helping the Empire become the true voice of the capital city. We hope you join the conversation.
• Emily Russo Miller is the editor of the Juneau Empire. Reach her at email@example.com or (907) 523-2263.