Journalism professor Judy Muller will attend the Conference on the Rural West in Ogden, Utah, this weekend to present her article “Too Close for Comfort: The Challenges Facing Rural Newspaper Editors in Covering Sensitive Stories” before a group of scholars, journalists and policymakers specializing in the rural American West.
The conference, hosted by Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, will bring together a group of experts to discuss some of the region’s major rural issues: economies, water, healthcare, the federal presence, Native American issues and understanding how to define the “rural West.”
“Too Close for Comfort” details the difficulties faced by local newspapers as they try to walk the line between personal relationships and professional objectives in small-town America.
“This article takes a look at the way rural newspapers cover a very, very sensitive story close to home,” she said. “One of the issues . . . is the courage it takes to report the truth when it involves your neighbors, sometimes even your relatives.”
Muller's piece analyzes the press coverage of a high-profile bullying case that involved the assault of a teenager — the son of a school principal — by three other teens, two of whom were sons of a school board president.
“This is a story . . . that has split this town [Norwood, Colorado] apart,” Muller said.
In the article, Muller details the problems confronted by the local editors as they reported upon an extremely sensitive and personal story.
“The local editor had a lot of trouble with it. She found it an uncomfortable story to even report about . . . she didn’t like making calls to the family.”
Muller, a resident of the town herself, said she also had her “too close for comfort moment” writing the story.
“I own a home there, I’ll probably retire there. I have a lot of friends there, and one of those friends is the editor of the paper. I had to write an article that was somewhat critical of the coverage. And that’s hard, I mean I experienced what I was writing about as I wrote it.”
The Atlantic Monthly has purchased the story, though Muller does not know when —or if—the story will be published because of ongoing lawsuits surrounding the assault case.
Her report will, however, be made available on the Conference for the Rural West website after her presentation.