CCPA Summer Series 2018: The Huntingdon Daily News

Learn about the day-to-day action at a rural community newspaper with Molly Biddle, who is interning at The Huntingdon Daily News.

By Molly Biddle

Inside the writers’ room at The Huntington Daily News.

I am currently working as a reporter and an editing intern for the Huntingdon Daily News in part due to the generosity of the Haverford CCPA and the Andrew Silk Summer Journalism Internship. The Huntingdon Daily News is a newspaper serving the community of Huntingdon County, PA. It just so happens that I grew up in this area located in the rural, central region of the state. Situated in Appalachia, the access that my community has to broadband internet is rather limited. While the newspaper does have an online format, the print version of the paper (alongside advertisement sales) still brings in some revenue unlike many other newspapers throughout the United States. For some members of my community, it is the only source of localized news regularly available.
I have only just recently begun my internship. While my insights will certainly expand throughout the summer, I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience in just the past few days.  As soon as I entered the office at 7:00 am on my first day, the writing staff were already hard at work catching up on the weekend’s events. Because the paper goes to print around 11:00 am each day for afternoon distribution, the early morning hours are crucial to reporters so that by late morning the story can be edited and paginated. At first, I watched the pagination process take place as the editor sent final drafts to be placed upon the different pages. It is an incredible process in which advertisements and photos are moved around and font sizes and word and line spacing manipulated so that the day’s stories can be placed so that no empty spaces remain.
By 10:30 am on my first day, we had moved on to the next day’s stories. During our five minute meeting that day, I was assigned three stories to work on independently and was instructed to keep a running list of possible stories throughout the summer and have since been assigned three more stories. In the past few days, I have conducted numerous phone interviews with local businessmen, members of the police department, and community members. In addition, I have gone on-sight to interview sources and take photographs for the paper, and I have attended meetings of the Huntingdon County Commissioners and a local chamber of commerce. These are just some of the highlights of my first three days of work. I believe that two of my stories will be published by early next week and am currently in the process of writing 6 others!
So far, I have had three primary takeaways. First of all, phone interviews are often frustrating. I have already faced multiple technical issues and have had difficulty contacting key sources for stories. In addition, phone conversations are much less helpful than in-person interviews unless you prepare many questions to prompt, because people tend to elaborate far less which adds to the frustration. There is a delicate balance that must be considered between maintaining enough information and asking leading questions in a way that guides the responses. Second, contacts are everything in news. I am very fortunate to have the guidance of my editor as I begin to write stories, because in news, having local sources that are trustworthy and feel comfortable speaking with you is imperative. I cannot imagine trying to do this work with extremely limited knowledge of the area. Even as a native, I have run into difficulties. Third, taking highly detailed notes is the only way to successfully produce a story worthy of print. I have already realized in multiple stories that I wish I had more information and had asked for more. I am quickly learning that no question that provides clarity is an unnecessary or silly question. Similarly to my experiences in class at Haverford, “why?” is the most important question in my journalistic pursuits. To be able to answer this question without the influence of your personal opinions is a challenge yet necessary to producing comprehensive, satisfactory work.
My greatest hope for the summer is that I may develop my journalistic ability through trial and error, keeping in mind the advice of the staff at the paper. In addition, I am excited to learn more about my own community’s history and meet more of the residents. I was highly engaged in high school and have had access to the newspaper while I have been at Haverford, but I have very quickly learned so far that I know an incredibly small amount about the area and the residents.
I must confess that small towns rarely have breaking news and currently my assignments are not incredibly exciting or glamorous, but I truly believe that an informed public is essential. I am particularly honored to provide accurate, fair information in an underserved area, especially one that happens to be my home. As news organizations are being attacked nationally, The Daily News is currently attempting to combat accusations of “fake news,” and I am happy to bring report relevant and true information to the citizens of Huntingdon County in hopes that each story may lend credibility to the publication.