Tucson Sentinel focuses on keeping the community talking

By Kathleen Majorsky

In 2009, Gannett shut down the Tucson Citizen, one of the city’s two newspapers, after 138 years. The city’s morning newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, continued to provide news and information for the city. But a voice was gone from the local news landscape.

“I along with some of my colleagues weren’t willing to see our city go with fewer and fewer sources of good information. We are a metropolitan area of about a million people and there are about 200 or so fewer journalists in this town than there were 5 or 6 years ago even as the city is growing. We think in order for a community to make wise decisions you have to be informed. You have to have someone out there asking tough questions,” says Dylan Smith, publisher of the Tucson Sentinel.

Even though the hours are long and Smith would really like to pay his all-volunteer team, it is worth trying to build a vital, sustainable news operation that reflects the Tucson community. Their goals for the future of the Tucson Sentinel are what keep them going.

“To keep reporting good solid news that people trust. To have more people participate in the conversation on our website. To have a healthy debate and respectful conversation,” Smith says.

One small way that Smith accomplishes this is through the easy-to-use design of the site.

“I think it is important to make the information that people are trying to get at pretty easy to find,” says Smith.

With the city of Tucson growing at the rate it is, Smith finds it challenging to get the well-designed website in front of the eyes of more citizen. One key to overcoming that challenge: showing up.

“Physically being out there and going to a meeting, saying hi to a few people and shaking their hands. They recognize that you are out there actually reporting. It starts to mean something to the people that realize we’re showing up,” says Smith.

Kathleen Majorsky, a journalist who worked with Michele McLellan and Janet Coats at RJI, is writing a series of posts called “Who is Block by Block”  for The Patterson Foundation website to introduce the foundation community to the sites and publishers whose work the foundation is supporting through Block by Block. We ‘re cross posting them here..

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