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The lasting lessons of small-town journalism

There is a lot to be thankful for in my life. Some things include a happy marriage, a great job, a loving family, and a high level of privilege that has helped me along the way.

I am also very grateful for my experience in journalism that has effected me in countless ways. It’s been a gift. I see the world differently, think more critically, and understand writing through a new perspective. This is in part thanks to my many years spent writing with truth and clarity as my main objectives.

Now, as someone working in public relations, I use many of my journalistic practices on a daily basis (the two fields have more in common than you’d think). The quality of my content is better off for it.

Although I may not have a byline anymore, or spend my Tuesday nights producing a 20-page edition, I’ll always carry those lessons with me.

They started in a small Colorado town, with a weekly community newspaper.

Times Change

Originally posted in the March 2016 edition of the CU Denver Advocate.

My small mountain town is always calling my name. This is especially true as the snow starts to melt and the spring-time sun emerges from behind Gunnison Valley’s peaks. Sunny Gunni, as the locals call it, has an allure for everyone who pays rent or pitches their tent near the coveted Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Some people roll their eyes at their hometown. Even though it comes with its own set of demographic issues, I never will. Honestly, I just couldn’t.

While so much of my attraction to the town comes from the tight-knit community, my childhood home, gorgeous scenery, and the 360 (at least) days of sunshine in a year, one amenity stands apart from the rest: The Gunnison Country Times, the valley’s weekly newspaper.

It inspired me enough to direct my path. I was an English major without a formal direction. I had an epiphany, inspired by my love of the familiar print.

So, with my dad’s professional connections in hand and my resolve to be a “practical” writer, I asked the publisher for an internship with The Times after my freshman year of college. It worked, and I began to compose my first pieces of journalism, at the command of the paper’s editor.

Tenacity and Luck

Everything was new. At this point in my life, I’d never opened the AP Style Guide, called someone for an interview, or had to pitch a story idea.

I was brand new to photographer collaboration and column inch counts. My idea of writing had always been confined to sitting on my bed and snacking on chocolate, waiting for narrative inspiration to strike in doses of academic engagement.

I was scared. My first article was about a local man, in his eighties, who kept track of the weather every day for the past 25 years. I showed up to his front door, and nearly turned around when I saw his cat tied to a leash, thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Somehow, I stuck it through. I wrote articles I’ll never forget. There was one about the art center’s literary journal. Another dug into the prairie dog crisis on the western slope. Then, a Western State Colorado University alum starring in her own TV show. And my favorite, about my high school basketball coach promoted to the varsity squad. All were small assignments, but they spoke to the strength of the community and its relationships.

With each passing article, I found my voice. I found my confidence. And, along the way, I found that The Times was a starting point for me.

And guess what? There would be more to come.

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15 thoughts on “The lasting lessons of small-town journalism

  1. I did a journalism degree so I found this really interesting to read. I finished my degree not wanting to pursue a career in journalism but can definitely relate to aspects of this like thinking about things differently and more critically. I’m glad you took many positive lessons from it x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

    1. Same. I got mine in English and Communcations with a journalism emphasis, and I did not go anywhere near either. I’m glad to have the background, but I’m also happy I parted ways. Thank you for reading and commenting! x

  2. I love so much about this! From changing direction to the small, hometown and always coming back to your roots. Just love, love, love! You never know where life will take you, even if you think you have it all planned out.

  3. Beautifully written. It’s wonderful your following tour dreams.
    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Alyssa
    THESACREDSPACEAP.COM

  4. I love your writing style, its so true that you can feel your passion within it (as a comment above mentioned!) Life is always unpredictable but I think the reason is so that we pick up so many lessons along the way. Great post, lovely! x

    1. That is very kind, and I’m so flattered. And agreed! My dreams and plans have definitely changed, morphed, and evolved, but there’s always something to pick up along the way. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, love. x

  5. This was super inspiring, Stephanie! I can definitely understand your passion, as I used to be a student journalist too in my younger years. It’s great that everything’s working out well for you though and that you still get to use your journalism background in your current career! 🙂 It’s true what they say, we may not know where life will take us, but as long as we’re happy, it’s still a great life. Cheers! xx

    1. Thank you very much! I totally agree, and feel so fortunate that my background is helping me in my present endeavors, and hopefully my future pursuits as well. And yes to happiness! Cheers! Thanks for reading and your kind words. 🙂 xx

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