Plan now to recognize first responders

Jim Pumarlo

Jul 1, 2022


Are you looking for a project that can energize your news staffs, generate new advertising revenue and underscore the value of a local newspaper to potential new subscribers?

Mark Oct. 28: National First Responders Day.

Full disclosure on two fronts.

First, highlighting the accomplishments of first responders is not my original idea. I picked it up while presenting earlier this month at a Management Boot Camp sponsored by the Texas Center for Community Journalism.

Second, I am not a fan of most proclamations. They are a dime a dozen and largely an opportunity for some official — most often the mayor — to get his or her name and photo in the local newspaper. The local affiliate typically submits a press release from the parent state or national organization —
verbatim — inserting its name in a half-dozen spots.

However, with local content, proclamations can be worthwhile and substantive. Think of the past two years and the performance of first responders during the pandemic and social unrest in the course of everyday routines. This collective group of individuals, from firefighters and police to paramedics and EMTs, is worthy of recognition.

Best yet, this project can involve all aspects of your operations from newsroom to advertising to circulation.


Have a brainstorming session to explore and identify content. Go beyond your newsroom to include your entire newspaper family, which likely represents a cross-section of the town. Broaden the discussion by including key individuals in your community.

Here’s one list of story ideas to jump-start the discussion:

  • What has been the experience of first-responders in the past couple of years in terms of the nature of calls? Have circumstances changed dramatically?
  • Has special training been implemented?
  • Are staffs experiencing stress and other issues in physical, emotional and mental health?
  • What is the impact on first responders’ family lives, relationships with friends and co-workers? Who is in their support circle?
  • Are there particular heartwarming stories to share?
  • What are some of their more challenging stories to share?
  • Communities across the country are reporting difficulties in hiring police officers. What is the local landscape for recruiting across the range of first responders?
  • Does your community rely on full-time or part-time first responders? For part-time responders, how do employers and employees manage the responsibilities?
  • Profile first responders and their families.

This is but one quick list. Think of stories specific to your community.

The project can be spread over a few editions or packaged in a special section. Either way, it’s an opportunity to generate advertising revenue beyond the normal channels.

The service of first responders should spark numerous avenues to salute their performance, especially if responders have been exemplary in specific responses. If your community has part-time responders, pay particular attention to their full-time employers and pitch the chance for them to recognize their employees.


Include the circulation department. New U.S. Postal Service regulations allow newspapers to increase their in-county sampling to 50% of their in-county subscriptions. Newspapers previously were limited to 10%. Take advantage and sample nonsubscribers with your special coverage. Showcase the contributions of first-responders in your local communities and underscore the value of your local newspaper.

To bring the salute full circle, why not stage a community event to honor first-responders. Several public and private organizations and companies will likely jump at the occasion to co-sponsor an event. You have plenty of time to design the tribute and pin down the logistics.

Even those newspapers stretched thin with resources often have some lull in the summer. This is the perfect time to plan and produce a special project that will likely introduce many new names and faces that are ordinarily not found in your newspaper. The initiative has the potential of being a win-win for your newspaper and your community.

Jim Pumarlo is former editor of the Red Wing (Minnesota) Republican Eagle. He writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage,” “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers.” He can be reached at and welcomes comments and questions at