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Local news sometimes = national news

Often, people pass on telling me about a campus story because they feel as if the story is too parochial, or too Nebraska-centric to make national news. There’s something inherently Nebraskan about that attitude — aw, gosh, I’m not doing anything all that special — when actually, yes, they are doing unique, nationally relevant work.

Sometimes a local story is just a local story — but more often than not, where there’s a will there’s a way in elevating local news to a national platform. Here are a couple of examples of recent efforts to take locally based stories and make them national news.

First, let’s look at some research done by UNL sociologist Lisa Kort-Butler. Her recent study, “Watching The Detectives: Crime Programming, Fear of Crme and Attitudes About the Criminal Justice System,” was a look at how Nebraskans felt about a range of criminal justice issues and how that related to the types of television shows they watched. The dataset that Kort-Butler used to come to her findings was NASIS — the Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey, through UNL’s Bureau of Sociological Research. NASIS asks Cornhusker State residents a range of questions every year, and that data is used by a number of UNL sociologists in their area of expertise.

We had decent success getting the story onto some national platforms; in addition to places like Glamour and LA Weekly, it ended up landing on Yahoo! News and MSNBC as well. This happened, in part, because we framed it as a study that examined the opinions of hundreds of adults, not hundreds of Nebraskans. Then we let the study’s findings do the rest. Those who read Kort-Butler’s findings found them interesting enough that they felt they spoke for the national population as a whole, not just some folks in the middle of the North American land mass (Notice that none of the headlines say “Nebraskans who fear crime often watch crime documentaries,” or “Here’s what Nebraska residents’ TV watching habits say about their fear of crime”). The lesson here is: A local story properly framed can become a national story very easily.

Another recent example: The Bureau of Business Research’s latest economic forecast for the state of Nebraska. This was, of course, going to be a well-read story covered closely by the local media. The day after we distributed a news release on the group’s forecast, the story appeared on the front pages of both the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star. It also was picked up by the Omaha bureau of the Associated Press, which served it up for national audiences later that day. It’s an example of a local story that latches onto a national meta-story — in this case, the economy — and found its way into national circulation across dozens of media outlets around the country.

So, if you’ve got a project, some research or a story idea that might on the surface look to only be of local interest, don’t hesitate to think in broader terms. It might be a national news story waiting to trickle outside the state’s borders.

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