Sumter Item creates Local News Advisory Board to strengthen coverage, bonds in community


For Sumter to thrive, it needs all hands on deck working together.

From government and education to business, health care, arts and culture, advocacy, faith and everything in between, each organization, every community leader who stands up for the silenced and ensures our children have access to the brightest future plays a part in whether our community grows or fades.

We at The Sumter Item know that and appreciate our relationship with the community members who help make that happen. To help promote that vision, we formed our first Local News Advisory Board.

Made up of 24 members from across communities, organizations and departments, the board met for the first time on May 12 and will continue to meet monthly on Zoom to share what is going on in each member's organization and community and pitch any coverage ideas they want The Sumter Item's newsroom to explore. Discussion topics can range from ensuring we know about an upcoming event to spotlighting a trend or telling us about someone who should be in the spotlight.

Our team at The Sumter Item believes we can all work together to ensure the right stories are being told in Sumter, the right voices being heard for the benefit of all. Local news is critical to the wellness of a community. There are 200 counties across the U.S. that do not have a local newspaper. South Carolina saw a 14% decrease in newspapers from 2004 to 2019.

The Sumter Item has been here for 126 years, and we know constant evolution is what's needed to not just stay afloat, but also to have a meaningful presence. Our reporters do their best to shine light on the most important stories people need and want to know. Sometimes, our knowledge of a situation, an event or a person or business is lost outside the blinders of what we know or personally experience.

That's where this advisory board comes in.

Hosted by myself and our publisher, Vince Johnson, the meetings are recorded for posterity and attended and/or made available to the rest of our newsroom whether through recordings or coverage ideas.

The first meeting was attended by 14 members and paved the way for a handful of articles that have already appeared in the newspaper and at since, including, but not limited to, these headlines:

- City of Manning, McLeod Health Clarendon honor lives lost to COVID-19 during service;

- USC Sumter honors fallen veterans for Memorial Day with inaugural program;

- Jumpstart to a career: Central Carolina Technical College's youth apprenticeship program expanding this year to more programs, students;

- Mixed Sistaz United want to end hunger, feed Sumter;

- Morris College in Sumter to host vaccine clinic Thursday;

- Sumter law enforcement agencies preparing for '100 Deadly Days of Summer' annual campaign;

- Clarendon seeing job boom; industrial park saw nearly $35M invested, over 345 jobs announced since pandemic started; and

- Climbing up the ladder: Sumter Fire Department trainer becomes Kershaw County fire chief.

Our newsroom, as always, retains control over our coverage, so not everything that is suggested will end up being written about because of staff capacity limitations, editorial priorities and other reasons.

But, here's the bottom line: we know we cannot cover what we don't know about.

This is not in place of our regular avenues of reporting and reaching out to members of our community. We think this will be a successful supplement that will help us stay in touch with all corners of the Sumter community.

In response to their participation on the board, members will be among the first to hear about new products or initiatives happening at The Sumter Item and get an inside look at our process.

The next meeting will be June 9.