Q&A: Holly Rosewood

How studying history in college influenced her perception of journalism and how newsrooms have stumbled in covering rural communities.

We’ve been publishing newsletters for over two years, but we haven’t properly introduced the person who ensures The Front Page and the Q&A land in your inbox every week: Holly Rosewood, The Objective’s newsletter manager. 

Get The Objective in your inbox every week.

Objective editor Janelle Salanga talked with Holly about her priorities when writing newsletters, how studying history in college influenced her perception of journalism, and how newsrooms have stumbled in covering rural communities.

Holly is also a program manager for the Pulitzer Center’s Campus and Outreach programs and a Southern Illinois University graduate with a background in broadcast journalism.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

First of all, tell me a little about how you got into journalism and how that led you to The Objective. 

The first two weeks of college, I was actually a history major. Then, I decided that I didn’t really want to be a teacher and I didn’t see myself going to grad school or anything right after undergrad. But journalism presented itself as a kind of present-day history, and it gave me a chance to be involved in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to had I stuck with history. I switched to a degree in Radio, Television and Digital Media — so, very broadcast focused — but I had the chance to take a lot of the same journalism classes as journalism majors, with the added benefit of learning about AV, which I really enjoyed. 

After college, and after having worked for a few TV stations, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I moved into the journalism-adjacent nonprofit world. But I still missed doing some of the journalism that I had been doing in a newsroom. Luckily, Marlee [Baldridge, The Objective’s Business Administrator] reached out to me, and asked if I would be interested in working on The Objective with her and Gabe and a few other folks that they had reached out to, because she knew that I was frustrated with a lot of the same things in media that she was. 

What were some of those things and how did you feel The Objective has helped you air some of those frustrations?

Marlee and I met while she was in grad school at the University of Missouri, where I was visiting for work. We got to talking about journalism schools and student newsrooms and, at the time, there was some discourse or a debate going on about ethics and student newsrooms and what people should or shouldn’t cut in their stories. This was, I believe, in fall of 2019. 

We both had ranted about how frustrated we were with the idea of objectivity and how excited we were, on the other hand, for younger journalists to be pushing back against that, and doing things that they felt were, you know, ethically correct and still making really good journalism while preserving their own values. That was the main thing that kind of drew us together. 

When Marlee talked to me about The Objective, of course, we were really, really frustrated with how major media organizations and legacy newsrooms were handling the murder of George Floyd and the response to coronavirus. So, fueled by that, in the summer of 2020, we got started.

Speaking of journalism ethics, I’m really curious about how your background as a history major shaped the way you think about ethics and objectivity. 

That’s a great question. I think that so much of journalism, and the newsrooms for which I’ve worked in particular, which are television newsrooms, are very, very focused on what’s happening in the present moment. And I think that can be really helpful in a number of cases. We’re seeing right now [this interview took place before Hurricane Ian hit land in Florida] how folks on the ground in Florida are helping people prepare for the hurricane and evacuate safely. 

But, on the other hand, it leaves out a lot of context that I think could be helpful to viewers. And so that’s something that I’d like to add to the journalism work I do, bringing in some of the context that may not make it into a 20-second story on air. I think some newsrooms that have launched recently have put more of a focus on that long-form storytelling, which I really enjoy. There have also been newsrooms that launch side projects that delve deeper into a single issue. So I really liked that, at The Objective, we take the time to break things down while also responding to the present. 

Yeah, absolutely, and I think The Front Page is definitely dedicated to covering those present media events with context. What are some newsletters that have been influential to how you think about putting The Front Page together?

A lot of student newsrooms inspire me, it would be hard to name them all. But, of course, you know, where I went to school, Southern Illinois University. Also, some of the newsrooms that I’ve heard from, because of working at The Objective — The Triton is a big one.

I really appreciate the new perspective that students and early-career journalists bring to what they are learning and then redistributing to an audience. And I never want to dumb anything down for people. 

There are some newsletters I subscribe to — I won’t name any names — that, you know, get into the details for no reason. Most people, if they subscribe, they have a little bit of background. 

We trust people, and we have a pretty specific audience. But of course, if people have questions about something, or they want to learn more, I really also like how closely our newsletter is involved with our editorial team, so people have read it and been inspired to pitch us. I really like that openness that we bring to the table.

That’s definitely something I’ve enjoyed, too, how closely the different “departments” at The Objective work together. To pivot a little, you mentioned you went to school at Southern Illinois University. How did coming into journalism from the Midwest shape the way you think about the field and the coverage bicoastal outlets do?

[Southern Illinois University has] a really good journalism program, and while I didn’t graduate from the journalism school, the people who graduate from the school I went to are doing really good things in industry. But, I feel like when compared to Northwestern or Columbia, it definitely does not get as much press coverage.

So I think that there was always, among other reasons, a feeling like I needed to kind of prove myself — like the work I was doing was not competitive enough, or what I was learning was not up to speed. I was lucky enough to work in a non-student newsroom while I was in college, which I do think helped me a lot in gaining experience that made it easier to find a job after graduation. 

I don’t think it’s necessary, and there were definitely some times where, when I was looking for jobs, folks definitely did not seem to be impressed or confident in my skills, having gone to where I went or having worked at a small television station as opposed to having an internship in Chicago or another city. That’s one side of it. I definitely did feel a little bit of shock moving to D.C. and feeling like I needed to relearn how to work in an environment outside of the Midwest, which sounds really strange, but, you know, I lived in Illinois my whole life before moving.

I had been really frustrated with a lot of coverage of rural areas. In particular, the town I grew up in had about 2,000 people and I rarely saw news beyond the local newspaper and nearby TV station about our community. But, of course, without fail, every four years, someone from the New York Times, or Washington Post, or LA Times would fly into some small town in the Midwest and talk about how we’re falling apart, and opioids are ruining our communities, and, more recently, [that] it’s Trump country. So it’s really frustrating. 

I know that, compared to other communities in the U.S., we have it fairly easy. I don’t think we have been harmed as much as other underrepresented communities by the media misrepresentation. But there have been some really real consequences of that type of coverage, not just with people getting less resources, or less knowledge about things that are going on in those areas that are so important — not that everything has to go back to the nation’s economy — but important to the country overall. And I’ve just been frequently shocked by how little people know. 

I think there could be much more good journalism about drug use, poverty, and education in the Midwest and rural areas overall, but because of lack of resources, or just fewer people from those areas and in major newsrooms, we don’t see it.

How would you like to see that coverage change?

I think just hiring freelancers who have been there their whole lives, who are still in those communities is huge, not just relying on flying people in. The likelihood that people are going to have honest, open conversations with people that they’ve never met before — it’s not as likely as someone who’s been in the community for a decade or is just reaching out to people that they know. 

I also think there are a lot of opportunities for newsrooms that are already in those communities to be working with folks around to train them to do that work. Of course, it’s not a rural area, but I really have liked what the Documenters Network has been doing to train people in communities to do reporting, to cover school board meetings and get paid for their work. There’s a lot of opportunities there. 

But, frankly, a lot of smaller newsrooms don’t have the resources, whether that’s money or time, to be doing that training. So, overall, I think large donors, if they’re looking for a place to spend money, local newsrooms are a great place. 

Speaking about local audiences, what kinds of things would you like to see more local newsrooms try to build into their values?

More transparency about what’s going on, especially in smaller newsrooms. When I was working in local news, I saw a lot of division between local news and local audiences. Facebook pages are always a trip. 

I hear and read a lot about being more involved in the community and making connections and being on the ground and meeting your neighbors and how that improves trust. But in situations where you’re already overworked and underpaid and losing co-workers, I don’t want to put that much of a burden on those journalists to be doing more. 

I think that, in most cases, they do care about their community, and going to a soccer game once in a while is probably not going to sway that many people. But by just being honest about what the situation is, I think people will see the type of support that can come from the community, especially when you emphasize the worth of what you do. 

Turning away from that, I’d love to hear — what are some things you’d like to do with the newsletter moving forward?

I definitely want to see more call and response, or interaction, to the newsletter. We’ve spoken about this a lot, but we are all volunteer. So, personally, sometimes it’s hard to find time to really open up those conversations and do that type of sourcing for interaction in the newsletter. 

But, down the road, it would be really cool to see more interaction with our audience. I also would love to have more integration across the different things that we do. So, say a freelancer publishes an article with us, I would love to talk to them about it. Or, if we have an event, I would love to have a follow up with the folks that were involved with that event. 

Obviously, I want people to get unique things from each of our “products,” but I also really like this community we’ve built. If we can make it feel more connected, I think everyone could benefit from that.

Editing by Curtis Yee.

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