Monday, December 30, 2013

Why I'm "Settling" As a Small-Town Journalist

By Angie Sykeny
Gordon College News Service
December 29, 2013

Finally, after a long semester, I am home for Christmas break in Peterborough, New Hampshire—the inspiration for Thorton Wilder's Our Town. I spend most of my time next to the fire, inching as close as I possibly can before the heat is too much to bear. The view from every window is the same—trees. There are no sirens, no honking horns, just the occasional sound of snow falling from the roof.

On the coffee table sits a stack of the local newspaper, the bi-weekly Monadnock Ledger. As I peruse the headlines, I'm not surprised to see things haven't changed. A feature on the local food pantry; ornament decorating at the library; the police chief's retirement; the high school's ski club.

Too often people look at me with skepticism when I tell them I want to be a print journalist. "Isn't that a dying industry?" And they do have some ground to stand on. Many of us studying journalism have heard more than once in recent years how metropolitan papers around the country are being bought out or declaring bankruptcy.

The real misconception people seem to have about journalism, however, is that it is a primarily urban career. "So you're going to move to Boston, then?"

"No,” I answer. Then they usually make some sugar-coated comment about how I'm squandering my college degree, not reaching my full potential, "settling" for less than the best when I tell them I want to be a community reporter. But what is the best?

Among my friends and family, it is unheard of not to subscribe to the Ledger. It is one of nearly 7,500 community newspapers in the U.S. with fewer than 30,000 in circulation that are still alive and thriving, according to a Stanford University report. How ironic that these journalists "settling" for working at a local paper have more job security than those at prestigious urban papers.

Aside from predicting future industry trends, I have other reasons for aspiring to be a small town journalist. Simply put, I love small town life. Some of the most incredible stories are overlooked because they are set in a rural location—stories that even the urban papers would be dying to publish if they knew about them.

But someone has to be willing to dig. Someone needs to go to that knitting club, that little league softball game, that woodworking shop. It takes a unique kind of curiosity to seek out the story in the seemingly story-less places, and for me that curiosity is insatiable.

Home means something different to everyone. For many of my fellow college graduates, home will be Boston, New York or L.A. For me, home is where there are more trees than people, where the nearest Wal-Mart is thirty minutes away, where the new rotary is the biggest town controversy in years, and where the newspaper is the heart of what brings it all together.


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