Students prepared an important, informational series

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 8, 2010

Staff writer Steve Sanoski took the lead in working with five University of Mississippi students who visited Vicksburg for two days to interview people and write stories for the series on the future of local tourism that started Sunday and continues through Friday. Most other editorial staffers chipped in, gathering art, researching graphics, designing the display.

In concept, the series is supposed to set a baseline. The idea is to share with readers not only where this community is with an economic sector that sustains 4,000 local jobs and generates $200 million in annual sales, but where it could be.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

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Working with students is something the Post has encouraged as long as I have been employed here.

The plus for the students is that they can experience what working journalists really do. Most of us don’t run around in packs screaming questions at people. Most of us don’t spend hours trying to figure out how to trap or embarrass people. Journalism is a methodical job in which reporters and editors gather information, distill what their experience tells them is relevant and, in words and pictures, present accounts that are as precise and accurate as they can make them. Lots of jobs are different on the inside than they appear from the outside. Journalism is one of them.

Another plus is that the students can see if being a reporter suits them. If a media career is not something they enjoy, better to learn sooner than later.

The plus for the Post is something we call “fresh eyes.” Senior editors here have combined experience of well more than 100 years of putting out one newspaper a day to hold a mirror up for people who call this area home. Our hope is that people will encourage and sustain what they like and change what they don’t, but reporters have often been working with the same sources for years. It strengthens our news product when someone takes a first look at this community. They never fail to see things we “veterans” don’t see or take for granted.

Because the students — Aline Carambat, Andrew Mullen Scott, Elizabeth Sillers Pearson, Donica Phifer and David Hopper — had only one day to conduct more than a dozen interviews, the topics and sources were decided in advance. Naturally, some of the tourism industry stakeholders we wanted students to interview had conflicts, but the willingness to participate was universal.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that “media inquiries” are not universally welcomed and the fact that these were to be open interviews with students added another dimension of uncertainty. But all the sources were unfailingly generous with their time and were willing to work with students who knew only a little about this community’s on-going story.

Now just because students worked on this topic doesn’t mean it was fluff. In national discussions of reform, it’s being said that health care spending accounts for 16 percent of the American economy. That’s about the same percentage of all local jobs directly dependent on tourism. Moreover, tourism is far more subject to local control than any other sector.

Farming, federal installations, educational institutions, manufacturing, retailing and other sectors shrink or expand largely due to external influences. Tourism is driven by the spirit of a community, the public’s interest in an area’s history and attractions and the effectiveness with which a community shares itself with travelers.

The students, working with the sources, are giving us an overview and a roadmap. The better we follow it, the better for all of us.