Getting involved with the chamber makes you appreciate the diversity of our members and the important role they each play in creating the community we love. Over lunch at the newly-opened White Rhino Coffee House in Waxahachie, I reversed roles to interview Travis Smith and Ashley Ford, two of the local reporters who bring to life the stories published on the pages of the Waxahachie Daily Light and the Midlothian Mirror.

You will see Travis, Ashley, or Andrew capturing with pen and lens almost every ribbon-cutting, chamber event, achievement in our schools, and the heartbreaks that hit our community. I was curious to hear more about the leadership values and ethics that guided the business of reporting the news.

Travis, who serves as the managing editor for both papers, explains that the core values of community, trust, and compassion inspire their work. Ashley adds that dedication to the community drives her passion for storytelling. While Travis grew up in Waxahachie, Ashley moved here to work for the paper after college. Both agree that genuinely caring about the people in the community is the key to success. Access to the important stories requires the reporters to build trust in and with the community. They do that by showing up for the small things and appreciating that everyone in the community has their own goals for what the paper should be and how it can share the stories that matter.

The trust comes from telling quality stories that reflect compassion and dignity for individuals who are willing to share deeply personal experiences. Recognizing that the people in the stories on their pages are the same neighbors they run into at the baseball field and in the shops around town helps build that compassion. Mindful also of the need to remain relevant in the world of instant tweets and posts, Travis and Ashley have worked hard to bring stories with depth to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. As journalists, they are bound by rules of ethics that set their reporting apart from less-restrained sources of “news” that hit our feeds in 140 characters or less.

Watching others make mistakes has helped Travis appreciate that the power of the pen must be constrained by humility. While negative headlines get the most reads, he explains that community papers also have to help build bridges and share inspiring stories of people making a positive difference — like Ashley’s recent series on the top graduates. As stories develop, the reporters hold each other accountable to the shared values and code of ethics to ensure the paper’s brand remains credible and unbiased. By giving a voice to those who don’t have one, chasing multiple sources (and all sides) to make sure the story is right, and owning up to and correcting mistakes when made, the team hopes to help build a better community.

I was glad to hear Travis share how the chamber helps make a better paper. He explains that the chambers are the foot in the door to the businesses that are the actual pulse of the community. Chamber staff members have the “in” on everything and are a reliable resource to get connected to anyone in the community. Those connections made through chamber events create the personal relationships that fuel the trust, community, and compassion values.

Give the chamber a chance to fuel your values and let our community reporters tell your story. And follow both on social media for the real stories that build deeper connections and a better community.