Joe Duggan will speak at the Anvil Rural Journalism Conference on April 8 in Lincoln. We took a moment to get to know each other a little better. Register to attend the conference (in person or online) here. And here’s our five questions for Joe.
Fly Over Media: What’s your current job? Or, what’s your particular area of focus these days?
Joe Duggan: I am part of a team of reporters at the Omaha World-Herald who cover the Nebraska Legislature and state government agencies. In addition, I cover the Nebraska Supreme Court, death penalty appeals and a few other cases that generally make it to the appellate level. I have spent significant portions of my 27 years in journalism in regional, state, outdoors and natural resources coverage. Stories I’ve covered include Whiteclay, the Beatrice Six, Keystone XL pipeline, the Humboldt triple-homicides and I once got to canoe the Platte River across the state on assignment.
FOM: What’s your personal background? How did you come into your field of work and study?
JD: Freshman chemistry at the University of Iowa convinced me I wasn’t cut out to be a pharmacist. I switched to journalism and have spent my entire career in Nebraska – the Grand Island Independent, the Lincoln Star, the Lincoln Journal Star and now the World-Herald. I’ve done some short stints of editing, but mostly worked as a reporter. Telling stories that would never be told, or told properly, has always had the strongest appeal for me. Although I still cheer for the Hawkeyes, my wife, Renee (also a native Iowan), and I love living in Nebraska and we are resigned to the idea that our three daughters will likely be Huskers.
FOM: How have you seen the newspaper industry’s coverage of rural America shift through your career?
JD: It’s easy to nit-pick national outlets for parachuting in an out of rural communities and filing stories laden with stereotypes and stock phrases of the simple life. I’ve read some of those stories over the years, but also I think the outsiders can also hold up the mirror. Are big outlets doing less rural coverage? Not sure. There’s no question that the Omaha and Lincoln newspapers have scaled back greater Nebraska coverage over the decades, but that doesn’t mean rural issues, news and features are ignored, especially by my current employer.
FOM: Where do larger-circulation newspapers fit in reporting on rural issues? Who do you think the audience is?
JD: I’ve always argued that we need to cover greater Nebraska for the simple reason that there are a plethora of interesting and important stories out there. In addition, the state’s urban centers are populated by those who grew up in places like Harrison, Imperial, Ainsworth, Superior and Ponca. Any good journalist knows you have to be there if you’re going to find good stories, have the sources and publish work that’s genuine and insightful. No, we don’t do daily delivery in Rushville anymore, but we still routinely send out reporters and columnists and photojournalists to the other 90 counties in Nebraska. And rural Nebraska comes to the Capitol on a daily basis, which also is reflected in our coverage. A good story from outstate is not a tough sell with our editors. How might this change in the next 10-20 years as the daily newspaper industry continues to morph is hard to say, but my gut says good rural stories will always find a place in the coverage mix.
FOM: What do you see as some best practices for covering small communities?
JD: Show up. Listen, listen and listen. Journalists need to get out of their comfort zones. Keep an open mind. Be up front. Tell the truth, warts and all, but make sure to include the context and don’t bushwhack.
See some of Joe’s work below.