Last August, just two weeks after moving to Tucson to start my job as an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, I headed to a coffee shop near campus. One of my new colleagues sat at a little table inside, eager to introduce me to Tom Beal, a former reporter at the Arizona Daily Star who’d been there for more than four decades.
“Tom has a great idea for a collaboration,” Renée told me as we shook hands.
I’d come to the School of Journalism with 20 years of experience, but gathered all over the place: I’ve been a public radio producer and reporter, a freelance foreign correspondent in South America, a contributing editor for a magazine and a freelance magazine writer. But through it all, I’ve stuck to my vision that some of the best journalism is produced collaboratively – not just among professional journalists, but also including different institutions and media outlets.
Within days of our meeting, Tom and I would begin to plot our three-way collaboration involving the Patagonia Regional Times, the University of Arizona School of Journalism and residents of Eastern Santa Cruz County. The PRT board not only approved our idea, but went to local residents and foundations to raise money for the project, which would involve the students’ two-day visit to Patagonia, meals, van rides, and printing costs for a special summer issue.
Folks in Sonoita and Patagonia also shared their concerns and ideas for coverage; a number of them – business owners, activists, researchers – even came to speak to our group and guided our students throughout the semester as they wrote their pieces.
We are very proud of what you’re about to read: these stories are the product of our students’ hard work, but also of a simple wish to try to revitalize not just community journalism but also journalism education.
Needless to say, when we got started with this collaboration in early January we did not foresee how the Covid-19 pandemic would affect our students’ reporting on the ground – let alone how it would affect all our lives. Many of our stories could not be fully reported on the ground before mid-March, when we all found ourselves suddenly unable to leave our homes or get close to people as we’d typically need to in order to interview them and spend time with them.
We hope that by the time this issue reaches you, life in Patagonia and Sonoita will have returned to normal. Thank you for reading; for trusting us with your stories, and supporting a collaboration that we hope to continue for years to come. We want to thank all of the participants who shared their experience with our students, as well as the generous donors who made this special edition possible.
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