My second day in West Plains started with a trip to the police station.

I spent my Monday morning shadowing West Plains Daily Quill reporter Kim Langston as she flipped through police incident reports to find the stories she would be covering that day. Learning how to sort through police intake reports is just one of the skills I’ve picked up during my week working at the West Plains Daily Quill.

I’m a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism studying multimedia investigative reporting. I’ve spent the past week in West Plains as part of the Potter Digital Ambassador Program. It pairs students at the University of Missouri School of Journalism with rural Missouri newspapers. Most of my journalism experience thus far has been at public radio stations so it was a nice change of pace to learn more about how a newspaper operates.

The ambassador program also allowed me to take the training I’ve received at school and pass it along to local reporters.

Along the way, I learned calling a newspaper’s crime reporter is a good way to find out what hotels to avoid during your stay. I also now know to buy Vicks in case I ever cover a crime scene. Apparently, it helps block out the smell of a dead body.

Of course, most of the lessons weren’t that morbid.

I learned about what it means to cover hyperlocal news, and I got the chance to talk to people with valuable experience and insight into the newspaper industry.

According to the Pew Research Center, the newspaper industry as a whole has seen a decrease in revenue and subscribers since the early 2000s.

Amid larger industry turmoil brought on by a decrease in advertisers and more people expecting to get their news online for free, the West Plains Daily Quill has managed to stay around. They’ve done this by focusing on local news, a niche that can’t be filled by a Buzzfeed article or CNN talk show. It’s a testament to the importance of focusing on local reporting.

In the week I’ve been here, the newspaper has published a story about a rabies alert, covered The West Plains High School boys basketball team beating the Parkview Vikings and reported on the increase in economic development. These are stories important to the community, but they wouldn’t be covered by a national outlet.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting Marideth Sisco, a musician and former reporter at the newspaper. She told me about her trip to Costa Rica and Panama covering the environmental treatment of natural resources. I learned about the importance of being flexible and taking the path less traveled.

I also tagged along with the newspaper’s general manager and publisher to the Rotary Club lunch. I got the chance to learn more about the city of West Plains and meet community leaders.

These experiences were all important when I created a strategy for helping the newspaper staff shape their social media presence. I spent this week digging through analytics reports and looking at metrics like post clicks and impressions. But going out and meeting members of the community reminded me of the purpose of social media — it’s about telling the story of a community, informing citizens and connecting with people.

This week we started adding text to Facebook posts to give people more information about stories. We also created an Instagram account (@wpquill) to share the photos and videos of the West Plains community.

In the months to come, The West Plains Daily Quill will continue to build upon the progress we made together this week.

I’m driving back to school on Friday but I will be taking all of the lessons I’ve learned this week with me.

I’ll keep in touch with the people I’ve met this week. And, of course, I’ll keep following the paper’s work on social media.

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