In part 5, hear from Manuel Coppola, Publisher of Nogales International and The Daily Territorial. Nogales is located on the southern border of Arizona and Mexico. It’s a small town with big town reporting opportunities.
Why Report Local?
“Why Report Local” is a special series that showcases community newspapers throughout Arizona. The series provides a glimpse into small-town and rural newspapers, highlighting the value of being a reporter in these communities.
Manuel Coppola is the editor and publisher of Nogales International and The Daily Territorial. He talks about the benefits of working in a bicultural, border community, and the hands-on experience it provides for recent journalism graduates.
Tell us about your community. What is it like to live in Nogales and why do you love living there?
I live in Sahuarita, which is a bedroom community to both Nogales and Tucson, but I was born and raised in Nogales. The city is very bicultural and bilingual, and it’s great to be able to enjoy both cultures. And, of course, the food is great. Nogales is almost 4,000 feet in elevation, so it doesn’t get too hot or too cold. We have all the seasons here.
Also, being a border community is fascinating. We get a lot of law enforcement news. There are also cross-border environmental issues, as well as issues with drug and human smuggling. We probably have the highest per capita law enforcement presence here than most anywhere else. It’s a very safe community.
Our downtown is now trying to reinvent itself as an art district. We’re starting to attract local bands and the art gallery has really picked up. It’s about 30 minutes from the wineries in Patagonia. They also have a venue for music there. A lot of us travel to Tucson, which is only an hour away, where the amenities are a heck of a lot more plentiful.
What is the history of Nogales International and what’s the culture like there?
Nogales International was founded in 1925 by Craig Pottinger. His daughter is in real estate and advertises with us. We hobnob with the family still. They have a lot of affection for the newspaper, and that always meant a lot to me as the publisher because I’m carrying on their legacy.
Plus, being the publisher of your hometown newspaper is quite a special thing. I’m able to continue to provide a quality product because I have found some very quality people and a team that keeps it going despite all the issues going on in the industry. They maintain a passion. They say it gets in your blood. My circulation manager has been here for 45 years. I also have employees who have been here for 20 to 15 years. They stick around.
What’s the reporter experience like at the newspaper?
We call ourselves the Nogales International University. We prepare reporters to move on to the bigger papers. They work under the tutelage of a great managing editor who mentors the reporters and gets them prepared. The benefit of working in a small community and a small paper like this is that a new reporter can come in and the first week, they’ll probably get a page-one story. They’re deep in the weeds with law enforcement, school health, and a lot of cultural angles. There’s always something to write about. They’re always busy.
I usually have two reporters. The managing editor and a reporter will be assigned to the county, and the other reporter will be assigned to the city. Those are the two major beats. We consciously try not to over-saturate the paper with local government news. We’re always trying to look for other angles. Some people just don’t relate; they don’t care. But they do want to read about the new band that’s playing in town or other weird things that go on in the area. So, we have to have our ears open and our eyes open all the time.
And then if a reporter likes sports, we have them write stories on sports or other interests they might have. It’s kind of loose, and then we cover for each other. If somebody is covering something at one county event and there’s another county event going on, then they just split it up. There’s a lot of flexibility, which is helpful to them because they get a more holistic experience.
What would you say to a recent journalism graduate to convince them to work for Nogales International?
You can get hands-on experience – real experience writing important stories. You’re not going to be relegated to picking up the obits; you’re going to get a well-rounded, post-secondary education here. You get a mentorship that is a lot of one on one. There also seems to be this fascination with border reporting, which has always helped us. We tell reporters there are going to be border stories, but that’s not going to be your beat; you’re going to get a taste of everything.