In high school, I watched my school newspaper fold under lack of interest. As I entered my senior year, the previous staff had all graduated and no one was signed up except for myself. I’d fallen in love with reporting, if only briefly, then. After the school newspaper stopped production, I resigned my hopes of becoming the next Joan Didion and moved on to other aspects of the writing world.
Since beginning to write for Flagstaff Live!, I’ve found myself more invested in not only local news, but the people who report it.
For Arizona Daily Sun reporters Adrian Skabelund and Scott Buffon, they have each come into their positions out of an interest in the daily goings-on of Flagstaff. Buffon began working at the AZDS following positions at The Channels, The Lumberjack and Courthouse News Service. He now covers crime, courts and the environment.
While at The Lumberjack, Buffon mentored many young reporters as they began their journalistic journey. He watched as they began to fit their personal writing styles into the structural boundaries of reporting.
“People expect [us] to talk about journalists in a way that journalists have to be truth tellers,” Buffon says. “The truth is going to be murky, but there are ways that you can talk about the events and what is happening—a perspective in a way that a person can undoubtedly read and say, ‘That’s true.’”
Buffon took a nonfiction class while in college that challenged him to think about what it means to tell the truth and how one determines what truth is. All we can do is investigate and report honestly.
While reporting on the death of Kyle Martinson, a young man who died while in custody at the Coconino County Detention Facility, Buffon found himself investigating the story in depth. He realized that journalists who had put a lot of effort and research into their work were the ones most concerned about the impact the article would have.
Where there is an impact, there may also be art.
“Journalism is definitely an art,” Buffon says. “Art is focused expression through a medium that reflects the human experience in some way, especially where there are questions with answers that aren’t being answered."
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Skabelund, however, might disagree that journalism is a form of art, considering it more of a craft. Skabelund has also worked for The Lumberjack, and now works at the AZDS covering government and development.
“I think journalism straddles the line between artistic writing and scientific writing,” Skabelund says. “Journalism often does the same things as art: putting a mirror up to the community and individuals within it, and asking the question if that community or individual should change.
“I admire the artistry [that] journalism can take,” he continues. “When it comes to writing there’s one side that’s very artistic, poetry, novels, etcetera, and then the other side you have very technical textbooks, academic reviews, and journalism is kind of right there in the middle. Journalistic writing can be very beautiful. There’s nothing really stopping that.”
Writing at the local and national level are very different. The AZDS allows its readers to take local news in gulps and swallows.
“[Writing for local news] helped me realize how important a community newspaper is for its community. It’s helped me love Flagstaff in different and complex ways. I get to understand what makes it tick. No one can write about Flagstaff like the Sun can,” Buffon says.
The Museum Fire in 2019 saw coverage from many news agencies, but local reporters have the benefit of knowing and befriending community members. Who else can truly understand the impacts Snowbowl or the Navajo Generating Station have on locals than people with an intimate knowledge of the community that’s being impacted?
You have to read the news to know how to write it. For those who have an interest in journalism, Buffon says, “Find more ways to write about the truth and discover your own voice and own sense of things. Coming at it with a perspective is the best way to ask questions.”
“Every reporter is a person with their own views. I think there are a lot of times where reporters have a clear idea about what they think is correct; they’re not making an argument, they’re just laying out facts. Just repeating what other people say can make an argument itself,” Skabelund says.