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Journalism in the age of ArtPrize

Grand Rapids journalist describes the challenges of journalism during the busiest time of the year.
Sasha Zidar

Sasha Zidar

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Want to stay up-to-date on happenings in Grand Rapids? See what Sasha Zidar has to say about different events and breaking news stories in the area.

If you like HGTV, join Zidar in touring some of Michigan's high-end homes in MLive's new video segment on Youtube.

Ellie Williams, contributing writer for Chron, defines a journalist as someone who "educate[s] the public about events and issues and how they affect their lives." There are always new events and happenings in the Grand Rapids area for journalists and reporters to cover, but what happens when everyone is trying to cover the same event?

Sasha Zidar, reporting intern with the MLive Media Group (Grand Rapids Press), has much to say about what it’s like to be a journalist in Grand Rapids, specifically during one of the busiest times of the year—ArtPrize. Zidar is responsible for covering any and all stories that are thrown at her, and is also the head of MLive’s new “High End Homes” segment. She typically covers between 1-6 stories a day, and some days she writes nothing, but there are other days where reporters and journalists are all competing to cover the same story.

ArtPrize 10 was in full swing just a few weeks ago. When asked what it’s like to be a journalist during the festival, Zidar described it as complete chaos; “It’s like if you gave a chicken crack and cut its head off.” Photographers and journalists stay up all night waiting for top 100 and finalist lists to be released. “You want to be the first media outlet that releases it [a story] because you get the most views and the most interaction, so people are going to stay with you during ArtPrize. A lot of our media coverage and views come from ArtPrize.”

There are a million stories, venues, artists and other things to cover during ArtPrize and like events, but not all stories get coverage. Zidar said, “Unless it has everyone’s attention, we’re not going to write about it,” which is the sad truth about journalism. Reporters are focused on trending topics: what’s being talked about, what’s trending in the media, and political and controversial topics. Otherwise, an audience isn’t going to care.

“What’s really important as a journalist is you really need to stay up with what’s going on and read the news every day,” said Zidar. In order to get the best stories, journalists must be up-to-date on what’s being talked about in the media, but also with what’s being talked about in real time. She said that many of her stories have come from word-of-mouth and keeping in touch with others.

Journalists, reporters and photographers alike are always in competition with each other, and they sometimes have to find new angles or new approaches in order to get their audience’s attention. This is especially true when everyone's attention is focused on the same thing. Zidar is always working to bring something new the table, and for her, that means being in front of the camera. During ArtPrize, she did a reaction video in Rosa Parks circle in which she asked visitors how they felt about ArtPrize becoming biennial. By doing this, she was able to step out of the realm of writing, and was able to produce something that a typical journalist wouldn’t.

Even if someone else gets to a story first, Zidar recommends other journalists to not get discouraged. This is a highly competitive field to be in; everyone is trying to be the best, so it’s important to try to think a few steps ahead of everyone else and to simply keep trying. “There’s always more to the story,” Zidar said.

In midst of large community events, or just in general, building connections with sources is key in journalism. If you are a good, ethical journalist, sources will reach out with any insightful information or networks that they have regarding a story. Zidar explained, "Being a good journalist is about making connections, being real, and never revealing your sources."

Now a few weeks after ArtPrize, the air in Grand Rapids seems to be lighter. Locals, visitors and journalists alike are all able to breathe again. Community events and breaking news situations are pressing times for journalists, but they can be the most exciting and beneficial to their careers, as well.

As ArtPrize shifts to its new biennial schedule, reporters, photographers, journalists and writers will face new challenges in the fall.

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