Community journalism matters

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

It was a sigh of relief to learn that Yazoo residents JoAnn Little and Vanessa Knox were given some closure to their property tax dispute that I first published in 2015.

The details of the recent court order that wipes clean a total of about $44,000 in unpaid, back taxes that these two women were unaware of, can be found on the front page of this edition of The Yazoo Herald.

Both women approached me in the summer of 2015, frustrated and ready to give up. Both had purchased two lots in Yazoo City that had thousands of dollars of fees attached due to demolishment and penalty fees from the city. Those fees were never brought to their attention when they purchased the properties. They found out months later when they received the bill.

Nearly three years later, the matter is closed with Little and Knox back to being owners, free of those back taxes.

My coverage of their story developed into a friendship with the two women, who kept me updated through the years about the matter. My initial story in this newspaper even earned me the Bill Minor Award, one of the top journalism awards in the state.

But their story did something very important for me this week upon hearing about their victory. It reminded me that community journalism, particularly the kind of journalism found in community newspapers, matters.

Often met with closed doors and unreturned phone calls, these women felt helpless in their situation. It was a situation, in my opinion, that could have been avoided.

When my telephone rang that summer day, I was immediately interested in what Little and Knox had to say about their struggles. Within an hour, I was standing alongside them on an empty lot that was the source of confusion and worry.

Two days later, their story was captured in ink. And it was heading to thousands of readers within our community. Little wrote a Letter to the Editor the following month, thanking me for taking the time to share their story.

Little and Knox showed me how much faith they had in me as a journalist and in this newspaper to give a voice, a little ink and a platform for the Average Joe citizen who merely wanted to be heard.

And that is the point of newspapers and the point of my profession.

In the midst of today’s world, it is easy to find news on your television set, on your cell phone or on social media. I have learned not to fight those mindsets but to embrace those mediums when necessary, incorporating them into print. In fact, The Herald’s social media accounts are the most visited pages within our community.

However, your community needs a community newspaper. Sure, it is the only place you will find your kid’s photograph during a Little League game. And, yes, it is your source to learn about that local World War II veteran or volunteer who has an interesting story to tell that you may not have otherwise heard.

But, much like in Little and Knox’s situation, your community newspaper serves as a watchdog. That is why the freedom of the press was such a vital component for our country’s founders.

It is community newspapers that keep an eye out for what is going on in your neighborhood, your backyard, your schools, your government, your world.

I believe Little and Knox understand the importance of community newspapers. They embraced its coverage and influence to tell their story when it seemed like no one was listening. Soon, they were heard.

And we’re all ears…and eyes.