Don’t talk to this editor about Buzzfeed
August 1, 2015
Young newspaper editor believes in the power
of the press
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
Abigail Whitehouse does not think print is dead.
At 25, she is a youthful newspaper evangelist who is preaching the gospel of community journalism as far as she can reach.
Whitehouse, a young editor and a purist, understands the blurred lines between professional journalism and the news one finds on the Internet and on social media sites, especially on Facebook. She’s trying to set her peers straight, even if she has to do it one at a time.
“I’ve already trained all my friends,” she said. “I have told them if they talk to me about an article they have read on Buzzfeed, they are going to get smacked.”
Whitehouse is the editor of The Interior Journal, a 3,416-circulation weekly newspaper in Stanford, KY, the seat of Lincoln County.
She graduated in 2012 from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in English, concentrating in creative writing. For fun, she took a few journalism courses and fell in love with it.
“I have always loved writing,” she said. “It has always been my way of making sense out of the world around me.”
A newswriting professor encouraged Whitehouse to submit a feature article to her college newspaper, The Eastern Progress.
“And they printed it,” Whitehouse said. “That was the first time I saw that I could use my writing to make a difference.”
Whitehouse joined the staff of The Eastern Progress as a staff writer, focusing mostly on features. That job led her to a 10-week internship funded through the Kentucky Press Association.
The next step along her career journey landed her at the Franklin Favorite, located near the Kentucky/Tennessee state line.
“That was about three hours away from home, so I packed up my stuff, took my dog and moved down there,” she said.
Whitehouse, a Kentucky native daughter, was born in Lexington. Her family bought a 119-acre cattle farm in the Preachersville area in 2007, when she was 17. Her office is right up the road from that farm, and she loves being close to home.
Whitehouse thrived in her internship in Franklin and credits her editor, Marcia Herndon, with giving her the tools to be successful.
“She was amazing,” Whitehouse said of Herndon. “I think my internship played the strongest role in helping me learn the lessons I needed to succeed in journalism—lessons like who to contact when I need to find sources, and the roles of different government officials.”
Whitehouse went on to work as a reporter for the Casey County News for a year before taking a leap of faith and applying for the job of editor at The Interior Journal.
With little journalism experience but enough self-confidence to make up for it, she had a phone interview with The Interior Journal’s publisher and the editor who was leaving, along with the executive editor of The Advocate Messenger of Danville, a sister newspaper to The Interior.
“A week after the interview, they called to offer me the job,” Whitehouse said. “I think the fact I live here was a huge bonus. I know the market, and I know the people, and I know what they care about.”
She started last April and has been on the job four months.
At The Interior Journal, she works closely with the circulation manager, office manager and sports editor.
“I’m learning from them as much as they are learning from me,” she said.
But when it comes to newsgathering, she’s on her own.
She covers the entire Lincoln County area, including the town councils in Stanford, Houstonville and Crab Orchard. She also contributes routine stories about wrecks, fires, local government and other issues for the Advocate Messenger.
Lincoln County, located in the center of Kentucky, is a rural area and a mecca for those who love outdoor activities. The area is also steeped in history. Stanford, which was settled in 1775, is one of the oldest settlements in Kentucky. Its population is 3,487.
The Interior Journal is a 150-year old weekly newspaper, owned for 80 years by the Walton family, who supplied three generations of editors. The newspaper has been at its West Main Street location in the heart of Stanford since the 1890s. Schurz Communications of Mishawaka, IN, is the current owner.
The modern version of the Interior Journal maintains its roots, but it does offer readers technology options. And for a youthful editor like Whitehouse, that is refreshing.
“I use Facebook as much as possible,” she said. “I use it to post traffic alerts and breaking news to keep readers informed. It can direct people to our website and to our print edition. People are always on Facebook. ”
The Interior Journal also has a paywall on its website, but readers can view five free articles a week. Online subscriptions are also free with a paid print subscription and available as a stand-alone option for $18.75 per year.
Whitehouse, who recently received the prestigious Hazel Brannon Smith scholarship from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors Foundation, knows her natural career progression might include larger daily newspapers, but so far, she’s not looking in that direction.
“I love the pace of the weekly newspaper,” she said. “You get to expand stories further than you would at a daily where it is go, go, go.”
She also loves the role a weekly newspaper plays in its community.
“Weeklies are crucial to their communities,” she said. “People always want local elements in the news.”
She loves seeing people waiting in line for the newspaper to arrive at the local gas stations. She loves to hear her dad describe the conversations with other farmers about what they read in The Interior Journal during regular breakfast meet-ups.
And she sees herself staying in community journalism for the long haul.
“I love what I am doing, and I love that I am here,” she said.
The young woman who grew up expressing herself through creative writing has discovered what to do with her talent.
And she has learned that dedication and belief in what she is doing does make a difference.
Editor’s name: Abigail Whitehouse.
Name of newspaper? The Interior Journal.
How long have you been editor of The Interior Journal? Four months.
What is its circulation? 3,416.
What is its publication schedule? Every Thursday.
Do you have a personal mission statement or motto? If so, what is it? Since I began my career as a journalist, I have always returned to one Barbara Kingslover quote, which has become my personal motto: “It’s good practice to take an uninspiring subject and try to make it sing on the page. I vowed never to hang any words under my byline until they were the best, most creative work I could produce. A career is built one paragraph at a time.”
How many people are employed at The Interior Journal? We have an office manager, production manager, sports editor, sales representative, and myself.
What is the most rewarding aspect of editing a community newspaper? I get to see every part of our community in the pages I edit, and it helps me as a reporter to better understand the needs and issues facing the community. Every page I read as an editor puts me closer to the people I care most about—our readers.
What are your biggest challenges? As a general assignment reporter for a daily newspaper and editor of a weekly, my biggest challenge is staying on top of news while also trying to meet my deadlines. I’ve often said I wish I could split myself into five parts and send them out into the community so I don’t miss anything.
What are your top goals for 2015? My main goal is to learn as much as I possibly can, as quickly as I possibly can. I aim for absolute accuracy in reporting and continue to do my best to fill the newspaper with timely, relevant news that matters to our community.
What are your newspaper’s most distinguishing characteristics? The Interior Journal is one of the first three newspapers in Kentucky and has operated at its existing site since 1890. As a weekly newspaper, it expands on news and issues that directly impact the Lincoln County population.
How do you view your newspaper’s roles in the community it serves? I see The Interior Journal as a historical beacon in the community—something people rely on for their news, community updates, and features about people they know or would like to know more about. I think without the newspaper, the community would be a train without its tracks, rolling recklessly into an unknown future.
What is one thing you will never change? I will never stop writing and reporting. Luckily, in my position as editor, I am also the sole news reporter for The Interior Journal, so I don’t see that changing anytime soon. My love for Lincoln County, the place I call home, will never change, either.