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Editor’s Weekly: News that matters here doesn't only happen here

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 28, 2013: Dear Beaconites --

News that hits home with St. Louisans often happens far from home. Proving that point, St. Louisans took great interest this week in the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage, the voting rights act and affirmative action. Similarly, immigration legislation and President Obama's climate control initiative carried distinct local implications.

The reverse is also true -- news that happens here can and should inform discussion of national issues. Take Dale Singer's interview this week with Stephanie Krauss, head of Shearwater charter school. National education experts have been trying for years to understand what it will take to give all kids a meaningful education. They could learn something from Krauss' extraordinarily candid account of Shearwater's demise.

“I realized that for the uphill battle we were facing collectively, we were not in the right shape,” said Krauss, herself a high school dropout who turned her life around and wanted Shearwater to do the same for others. “We had trained to scale the Ozarks, and we were up against the Himalayan mountains.”

For a regional news organization like the Beacon, deciding what to cover is a constant challenge. We focus on news that matters, but we simply can't cover all of it. In an earlier Editor's Weekly, I explained why we had chosen not to cover certain local stories. This Editor's Weekly focuses on national news we covered even though it might have been left to others and on local news we covered with an eye to its national significance.

To set priorities for coverage, we weigh several factors -- primarily the impact of the news and the potential distinctiveness of our reporting. We focus on what seems most significant, with special attention to providing what other news organizations are not, including depth and context. This week, the Beacon brought considerable reporting expertise to exploring the local implications of national news and the broader significance of developments here.

Leading our Supreme Court coverage was William H. Freivogel. A lawyer and now head of the journalism school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (and, full disclosure, also my husband), he has long covered legal issues in general and the Supreme Court in particular. He brings to Beacon readers perspectives from local experts and about local impact that would not get attention in national reporting.

For example, his story about the court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act included comments from Mary Ziegler of the Saint Louis University law school. She began to sort out how the decision might affect same sex couples who married elsewhere but live in Missouri, where gay marriages are not recognized. Further federal guidance -- perhaps including new laws -- may be needed to clarify the situation. Beacon reporter Jason Rosenbaum covered the immediate local reaction to the court decisions and is following through to explore what's known about the practical impact.

Rob Koenig, the Beacon's Washington correspondent, also brought depth of experience and special local focus to his reporting on Obama's climate change initiative and on immigration. Missouri's relatively low electricity rates depend on coal, as do parts of Illinois' economy. That explains why the president's environmental plan drew criticism across political lines from some local politicians. Meanwhile, some environmentalists questioned whether the president's approach was bold enough.

The immigration debate also has a special St. Louis twist. Civic leaders here have embraced immigration as a spur to regional reinvention, with new immigrants providing high tech skills and entrepreneurial spirit. Also, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois played a key role crafting the senate bill.

In years past, as newspaper circulation tanked, many editors embraced the idea that their top three coverage priorities should be "local, local, local." But Thursday, the Mosaic Project kicked off efforts to attract more immigrants to St. Louis and the Senate passed immigration reform -- serendipitous reminders that the local community we live in and must report on is indeed a global village.



Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.

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