GateHouse Media newsroom profiles: The Gainesville Sun
The Gainesville Sun, under the leadership of editor Douglas Ray, earned the Community Engagement Journalism award for mid-sized papers in the 2016 Best of GateHouse competition for its work on the Gainesville for All project. We caught up with Ray to get a glimpse into his newsroom’s success in 2016.
Name: The Gainesville Sun
City/State: Gainesville, Florida
Editor: Douglas Ray
Publisher: James Doughton
Publishing frequency: Daily
Editorial staff size: 19
What’s one thing that your newsroom does really well and how do you do it?
Engagement. We want our journalism to be transparent and broadly collaborative. That means we find ways to engage the community at each step in our process. The big focus for that over the past year has been through our Gainesville For All initiative, which is described more fully below. But we also have used a reader advisory board and lots of social media interaction. Our Issues section on Sunday usually has about eight local non-staff columns and three or four letters. Our goal is to make everyone in our community see they are stakeholders in #JournalismWithImpact.
What is your hometown famous for? Any notable celebrities or events?
We’re home to the University of Florida, so there is that, along with its national championship sports teams. Gatornationals is here, one of NHRA’s most revered drag racing events each year. We also have a deep music tradition. This is home to two seminal members of The Eagles and Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills and Nash), Tom Petty, and blues great Bo Diddley. More currently, our city has launched Sister Hazel, Less Than Jake, Against Me!, and we have an annual punk event, Fest, that draws people from around the world. This region also has the greatest concentration of natural springs in the world. And lots of alligators, on and off the University of Florida campus.
How does your newsroom #DoJournalismWithImpact?
We have left behind a lot of the daily process stories to focus on breaking news and journalism with impact. Reporters get out of the office and exercise their curiosity. They build networks of diverse, informed sources. And we focus our efforts on the topics we know people here are passionate about. A lot of it is accountability — watchdog — reporting. Deborah Strange, who just was named GateHouse News Writer of the Year, painstakingly documented elements of plagiarism in a book published by the local school superintendent that ultimately cost him his job. Another passion topic the University of Florida, where we’ve recently been investigating problems among top administrators.
How does your newsroom engage with the community?
Over the past year, our engagement has been focused on an initiative we call Gainesville For All. There was a tragic police shooting of a young man here last spring. It surfaced issues of broad inequity and despair, particularly in the African American community. We reached out to community groups, neighborhood activists, big institutions and other stakeholders to form work groups that used data and local knowledge to identify a short list of achievable goals that can make a difference. We got some funding from a local community foundation. We’ve held several big forums, more than 80 small group meetings, and more than a hundred individual meetings to build trust and insight. Recently the city commission endorsed all of our goals, several of which are well on the way to being accomplished.
How does your newsroom #EmbraceOurFuture?
We have built our routines around digital, engaged journalism with impact even as we experiment with new tools and processes. That involves regularly scheduled in-house newsroom training on things like best practices for Facebook Live as well as finding ways to support deeper levels of skills with regional workshops. Fortunately, here in Florida, there are opportunities for that. We focus our work on areas we know people care about — UF sports, breaking news, accountability, environment, equity — and deliver it where people will find it: on their social media platforms, searching online, in their podcast feeds, on their cell phones, desktops and driveways. We start early each day with breaking news and develop fresh content throughout the day.