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Local journalism is a privilege and should be promoted

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I texted Echo Journal reporter Dan Determan on a whim in November 2021, hoping he might get me connected to whoever could hire me as an intern.

I was nearing the end of my first semester as a journalism student, and I was eager to get any experience I could.

It took until January and a follow-up on my part to get a hold of Nancy Vogt of Vogt’s Notes fame (she can be a tricky gal to track down sometimes … might be a side effect of the busy schedule), but before long I had a job lined up for the summer.

I went in with a basic knowledge of AP style and reporting and the ability to use a camera, but that was about it. In just a few short months, Nancy deemed me qualified enough to keep on as a casual employee as I returned to college and welcomed me back when I was home again for winter break.

That brings us to now. It saddens me to say that my days with the Echo Journal are dwindling as my dreams carry me to new horizons this coming summer. Before I leave this great newspaper and beautiful state, I wanted to share a few things I learned from my time under the Pineandlakes banner.

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Nancy Vogt, Dan Determan and Travis Grimler, the journalists who bring the Echo Journal to you every week, cover a lot of ground — around 500 square miles from my estimation.

That includes seven city councils, two school boards (and two school’s athletics) and parts of two different counties.

Add in the work of chambers of commerce, dozens of service and nonprofit organizations and thousands of citizens who deserve to be recognized for the good they do in their communities, and you’re left with a lot of work for just three full-time employees.

While meetings and agendas may get a little boring from time to time, reporting on them is critical. Just by doing their jobs each week, Nancy, Dan and Travis do their part in upholding democracy, keeping officials accountable and helping the public stay informed.

Don’t misinterpret this as pity for the three. From my understanding, all of them enjoy their jobs and find ways to sneak their own interests into their work every day, something a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to do.

Speaking of luck, do you know how lucky you are to have the Echo Journal available to you?

Some 70 million Americans live in counties that are considered “news deserts.” These areas have no newspapers dedicated to local reporting, leaving the aforementioned critical reporting uncovered.

Not only does the lack of local news leave local politicians and organizations less accountable, but it also means many residents turn to national news instead, consuming more nationally focused political news and potentially increasing partisanship and division across the country.

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You’re lucky to have the Echo Journal. You’re also essential to its survival and prosperity.

Read the newspaper, whether in print or online (and I don’t mean scrolling past the news to browse the obituaries … you’d be surprised just how often people do).

Engage with the Echo’s journalism. Talk about it with friends, family and neighbors. Unlike national politics, discussions of regional and city government are less prone to devolving into personal attacks and hurt feelings (at least in most cases).

Megan Buffington Headshot
Megan Buffington, Echo Journal news intern
James McCrae/K&M Media

While the Brainerd Dispatch does important work too, and I encourage you to support them as well, if you live in any of the Echo’s coverage areas — Pequot Lakes, Pine River, Backus, Breezy Point, Crosslake, Hackensack, Jenkins, Lake Shore or Nisswa (see what I mean about a lot of work?) — remember that the Pineandlakes Echo Journal is dedicated to covering your area specifically.

Nancy, Dan and Travis live and participate in these communities, too, and they matter to them just as much as they do to you.

I may not be a permanent part of the Echo Journal, but I am proud to have contributed to the work it does and served my community in this small way. Thank you to all those who read my stories and engaged with my columns.

Now go on and get others to engage with journalism, too.

Megan Buffington, Echo Journal reporter, may be reached at megan.buffington@pineandlakes.com. She is a 2021 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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