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American Journalism Review
Finding a Niche  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   June 1994

Finding a Niche   

By Carl Sessions Stepp

Carl Sessions Stepp (cstepp@umd.edu) began writing for his hometown paper, the Marlboro Herald-Advocate in Bennettsville, South Carolina, in 1963, after his freshman year in high school. He studied journalism at the University of South Carolina, where he edited The Gamecock.

After college, he worked for the St. Petersburg Times and the Charlotte Observer before becoming the first national editor at USA Today in 1982. In 1983, he joined the University of Maryland journalism faculty full time.

In the ensuing 30 years, he also has served as senior editor and book reviewer for AJR, writing dozens of pieces. He has been a visiting writing and editing coach for news organizations in more than 30 states.

     

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Deborah Howell wasn't necessarily aiming to be a pioneer when she took over the Newhouse Washington bureau four years ago. She just wanted to find a niche.

"It was very practical," Howell, 53, remembers. "I said, 'I can't be the New York Times or the Washington Post. I have to find something for my news service that is different.' That's how I chose what to cover: Here are some things that weren't being covered and needed to be."

Howell's innovative selection of "new issues beats" quickly drew attention and helped redefine the agenda for many Washington bureaus. Among the new beats were religion, ethics and morality (for which reporter Joan Connell was a Pulitzer finalist this year), race relations and violence, families and children. Howell also hired a humor columnist.

Since then, her bureau has added beats for aging, work, and gender and sexuality.

What does Howell, the former editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, plan next? Increased religion coverage (Newhouse recently purchased the Religious News Service) and a cyberspace beat.

Her biggest frustration has been discovering how difficult it is to bring a fresh view to political coverage. "The hardest thing," she says, "is trying to cover Washington politics and the White House from a perspective of outside-the-Beltway readers."

­ C.S.S.

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