Yancey County News’ Jonathan Austin talks to The AWL about winning journalism awards

Its first year out, the Yancey County News has won two major journalism awards, the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.

The prizes were both awarded for stories reporting on corruption in the county’s official channels. In one series, the paper revealed that the county’s deputy-sheriff had pawned county-owned firearms for personal gain; another series uncovered absentee ballot fraud, voter coercion, and voter anonymity rights violations in the county. Juries for both awards recognized not only the quality of the reporting, but the extraordinary efforts necessary to get such reporting done in a paper’s first year of existence. …

The other day I spoke to Jonathan by phone, and over the course of our conversation, he had some gems to offer about the history of journalism, his commitment to rigorous reporting, and what it’s like to operate in such a small community….

[Austin]:“I come out of the school that says, if there is something going on, you try and write about it. Though I fail miserably in so many ways, because there is so little time I have, because I’m just one man, I try and touch on everything I can.

In many ways, it’s just what you learn in journalism 101. It’s not investigative aggressive; it’s showing up aggressive. It’s covering as many of the items of what goes on in a community in any given week. We’re storytellers so when I’m talking to journalists, I try and remind them that we come up with scripts for the things we don’t necessarily want to tell our grandma and I remind them—Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That community I felt didn’t have anything aggressive enough.”


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