A River Runs Through It: Defining news communities through the water they share

Read the full story in the Columbia Journalism Review.

While students at Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Andrew McGlashen and Jeff Gillies started thinking, like so many J-schoolers, about how to turn the skills they were learning into a career.

Their prospects didn’t look too promising. McGlashen and Gillies, who often attended conferences held by the Society for Environmental Journalists, kept hearing the same story from veteran environmental reporters. “They were always talking about how their friends had been laid off in the last round of buyouts,” says McGlashen. “We were hearing pretty frank advice, saying, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t go work for a newspaper because there’s no job stability, you don’t get paid much, and you’re going to be asked to do more than you should.’”

With environmental beats often being among the first cut, they started brainstorming about making their own site. But they kept getting snagged on the same question: What would be their beat? “We couldn’t find a scope that was doable for us. We wanted to make it stand out without being overly broad,” says McGlashen.

During the drive home from a fishing trip last year, they realized they had been wading knee deep in their specialty: Michigan’s rivers. This June, the two men launched their site, Michigan River News, where they have been posting about one news story and a few blog posts a week, all having to do with the state’s 36,000 miles worth of rivers and streams.


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