This week we talked with Liz Ramos, education reporter for the News & Advance in Lynchburg.
Liz is new to Virginia and talks about acclimating from the Midwest; how her job has affirmed her belief that newspapers are irreplaceable in all communities; her most memorable bylines and more.
To start, can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background (where you’re from, education, etc.)?
My name is Liz Ramos, and I’m the K-12 education reporter for the News & Advance in Lynchburg. I’m originally from Carol Stream, Illinois, and graduated with a bachelors in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2017. I’ve been with the News & Advance for a little over a year now, first covering Nelson County for the Nelson County Times for three months and then moving to the education beat in January.
How have you acclimated to Virginia? Have you noted any differences in reporting here compared to your native Midwest?
I think I’ve acclimated pretty well to Virginia. I like the small town feel you get when meeting people throughout Lynchburg and in the surrounding counties. I also love Lynchburg-area’s natural beauty. I’ve had to get used to driving around hills and mountains after driving on pretty flat areas for most of my life.
I have noticed some differences. With Lynchburg and the surrounding counties consisting of smaller populations than big cities like Chicago or even a college town like Columbia, Missouri, I think it’s easier for reporters to dive into the communities and really get to know people. We become aware of the issues that really affect the communities we write about and for some counties, we are one of the only sources of news. For example, several people in Nelson County don’t have internet, so they pay close attention to our newspaper, the Nelson County Times, to know what’s going on in the county from events to projects local government is working on to features on people they might know.
That’s very interesting. Would you say this has kind of confirmed the value of what a newspaper provides to a given area, especially if that area is without other means of getting news? I imagine that has to factor in to how one goes about reporting and the responsibility felt to a given community or area.
I would definitely say this has confirmed the value newspapers can provide to a given area. Throughout my time as the Nelson County reporter and even as the education reporter, several people have come up to me and thanked me for reporting on the county or on the schools. To people living in a different area, a story about a proposed business development in Nelson County might not seem like a big deal, but to the residents in the area of the proposed development, it’s very important.
For many people, a story on elementary students learning about different types of weather through interactive activities isn’t that important, but to the kids in the photos, the teachers interviewed and the parents who get a glimpse into their child’s classroom, it’s exciting to be recognized in the local newspaper and being able to share the creative activities going on in the schools.
Being able to really know the communities you’re covering and building relationships with the people living or working in those communities creates an even stronger sense of responsibility to do the best reporting you can because you know the readers personally. You get to know how much people care about certain topics and even know how it might directly impact people you’ve met.
“Being able to really know the communities you’re covering and building relationships with the people living or working in those communities creates an even stronger sense of responsibility to do the best reporting you can because you know the readers personally. You get to know how much people care about certain topics and even know how it might directly impact people you’ve met.”
What has been one story, since coming on board about a year ago, that has stuck with you (for better or worse)?
One of the school divisions I cover has an Equity Task Force that serves as an advisory committee to the school board. The task force assists in evaluating the equitable practices within the school division. The division has had a history of having a large achievement gap between black and white students. Many members of the Equity Task Force joined to try to find ways to close the gap. The story I wrote focused on members who were disappointed in the school division’s progress in closing the achievement gap since some of the members have been helping to close the achievement gap since the late 1990s. This story is one that I will remember because it took a lot of diving into the history of this group, understanding data and trying to be fair and balanced between the frustrations of the members and the school division’s response. Putting this story together took some time, but I think it worked out well.
What’s it like being a younger person in the industry right now? On one hand you’re doing really rewarding work and serving the public’s good and then on the other you can’t help but notice newsrooms at papers are shrinking.
When I accepted the job at the News & Advance, I was surprised to find that we actually have a staff that consists of mostly younger people. I think younger people are able to find new ways to get the news out and find new stories or new angles on a story that’s been done so many times before. I think everyone in the newsroom, no matter what age, has adapted to the change we’ve seen over the years with people using social media and the internet to find their news. For my beat, I’m able to more easily relate to students because of my age.
I don’t have as big of a concern about newsrooms at papers shrinking because I see the innovative ways newspapers are still remaining important. For example, when a tornado struck the Lynchburg-area in April of this year, a lot of people lost their power, but they still received their newspaper. It might not have been on their driveway or doorstep at the normal time, but they still received it.
Then there’s always the sentimentality of having a newspaper. There are still many people who would rather hold a physical newspaper in their hands and maybe even clip out stories to save. I personally keep some of the copies of the newspaper that have my favorite stories that I’ve written. Although the internet provides a chance for something to be accessed for years, sometimes things can go wrong and archives are deleted.
What are some of your interests outside of reporting? Also, what’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you?
I like to hang out with family and friends, travel, watch Netflix, work on some crafts and read.
I was born on the same day as my brother but three years apart, and I marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Ireland with Marching Mizzou in 2016.