About a year ago, I was asked to write a bio for the Tom & Pat Gish Award nominations. This is what I gave to Al Smith, an amazing newsman who we simply refer to as “The God of Kentucky Journalism.”
I was born in Metairie, La. and graduated high school in Houston, Texas. At age 20, I graduated from Boston University’s College of Communication with a degree in mass communications. I had a few odd jobs before I landed my first reporter gig at the Daily Progress in Jacksonville, Texas. My parents had moved to the town while I was in college. I loved reporting, and quickly worked my way up the ranks to managing editor.
That’s where I first got a taste of investigative reporting. The city manager was fired after we reported he was illegally burning down condemned houses in the poor part of town. My lead reporter and I also uncovered a myriad of problems in the Jacksonville Police Department, including officers allegedly involved with drugs and prostitution. My reporter won an AP Managing Editors Association of Texas Freedom of Information Award for her reporting.
CNHI offered me the managing editor position at the Times-Tribune in Corbin, Ky. and I moved there in August 2006.
There was the sheriff story, but there were plenty of public corruption battles to fight there.
• We found out the city of Corbin spent $20,000 on tickets to a Montgomery Gentry concert for city employees and their friends: http://thetimestribune.com/local/x1065253188/City-spent-20K-on-tickets
In July 2010, I took a job with Country Media and moved to Tillamook, Oregon. Things are much quieter on the Oregon Coast, but many of the issues that affect rural America are the same wherever you go. Our citizens in rural Oregon struggle every day to have access to public and private services no one thinks twice about in Portland. Tillamook struggles with prescription pill abuse, poor access to health care and a lack of educational and economic opportunities.
And for all of those reasons, I never thought I’d end up loving life in a small town. But rural America needs more advocates, and I’m proud of the work small papers can do. I get a sense of accomplishment from this kind of work that would never come from being a copy editor at some major metro. I’m excited to go to work every morning and (usually) to stay late every night. And I’ve made plenty of good friends along the way.
Small town papers are in a better financial position than most city papers, but they need to provide quality journalism to keep readers in the digital age. And, sadly, most small papers are content to cover car wrecks and bake sales and call it a day.
I’ve seen too many J-school graduates – and even long-time editors – who don’t have any passion for newspapers. Sure, you’re overworked, underpaid, short staffed… but that’s no excuse for not fulfilling your role as the Fourth Estate. Rural towns need good journalists who both care about the communities they report on, and aren’t afraid to ask the tough, uncomfortable questions when necessary.
It’s a difficult role to play in a small community, because you’re not isolated in an urban sea of newsroom cubicles. You’re out in the community every day, justifying your work to friends and neighbors.
And that’s what I love about community journalism. It keeps you real.