For new year, our newsroom is reorganizing

One of the first pieces of advice I got from my first editor was this: Reporters have to know a little bit about a lot of things.

It’s true in any newsroom, but especially so in a small newsroom like we have here in Alpena: You never know when you’re going to be called off to some place you’ve never been to ask someone never met questions about a topic you’ve never dealt with so you can write a story you’ve never been asked to write before.

It’s good, in this business, to have just enough knowledge about enough subjects that you know what you don’t know and know who to ask to find answers.

Reporters are given beats — geographic or subject areas they are responsible for covering — to mitigate some of those potential shortcomings. When you cover one area or industry or topic, you get to know more people who are knowledgeable about that subject. You learn the lingo. You figure out who knows his or her stuff and who doesn’t. You pick up the history of things, the background, the context that can make your reporting more rounded and authoritative.

Here at The News, we mostly cover four counties: Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency and Alcona. When I took over as managing editor in July, the four news reporters were each assigned a county, with some added duties here and there (the Presque Isle County reporter, for example, also covered Alpena Community College and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary; the Montmorency County reporter also covered Alpena Public Schools and Alpena Township).

Geographic beats are manageable, but they have their shortcomings. As an Alcona County reporter, for example, you would have to cover Alcona Community Schools, the Alcona County Board of Commissioners, the Alcona County Sheriff’s Office, the Alcona County Library, the 23rd Circuit, 81st District and Alcona County Probate courts, the Alcona County Road Commission, the local governments of Harrisville and Lincoln, plus anything else that came up along the way.

It’s hard to get a firm grip on all of that, and you often end up writing stories that are a mile wide but only an inch deep. And, being stretched so thin, you tend to miss things. In the early months of my time here, we were scooped a few times, especially on cops and courts items.

So, we’ve decided to try a different approach.

As of now, we’ve reorganized our beats based on subject areas, instead of geography. The idea is that, by focusing on individual topics versus entire counties, reporters will become better-versed in the topics they’re responsible for. Hopefully, that will make for better, deeper stories and more scoops for us, fewer for the other guys.

Here’s how things are now broken down:

∫ Alpena County: Steve Schulwitz, our most veteran reporter who previously covered the City of Alpena and Alpena County, plus the state representative and state senator covering our region, is now responsible for the entirety of the county. His job is more or less the same, but he now also covers Alpena Township. He can be reached at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or 989-358-5689.

∫ Education: Julie Goldberg, who’s been with The News since July 2017 and previously covered Montmorency County, is now our education reporter. She covers all K-12 school districts in our four-county coverage area, plus Alpena Community College. She can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com.

∫ Criminal justice: Julie Riddle, whose name some of you may recognize as one of our longtime Everday Faith columnists in the weekend paper, has joined The News team full-time to cover criminal justice. That means covering all of the big court cases in our four counties and follow-ups on the biggest breaking news, yes, but she’s also responsible for deep-dive looks at the biggest issues affecting our local first responders and our courts. Reach her at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.

∫ Regional government: Crystal Nelson, another name you may recognize as she was a former News reporter from 2004 to 2008, has rejoined the team to cover local governments in Presque Isle, Montmorency and Alcona counties, with a focus on regional issues that affect all of Northeast Michigan. Reach her at cnelson@thealpenanews.com or 989-358-5687.

Other things remain the same. James Andersen and Jonny Zawacki remain on the sports desk and my wife, Darby Hinkley, remains the Lifestyles editor.

And, we being a small newsroom, there will be overlap and reporters will have to help each other out on their beats.

But, hopefully, the narrower focus afforded the reporters through subject-area beats will make for some of the best stories you’ve seen coming out of The News.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.