In the dire midst of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the Thursday before the Primary Election, I began my first day as the new reporter for the Plain Dealer & Sun. I considered myself one of the lucky ones — many people were out of work or quarantining themselves within their homes. I myself had been let go from a job I’d just started in mid-January, going over two months without a paycheck. Luckily, I was able to sustain myself off my tax refund and stimulus check. Again, I was one of the fortunate ones, praise God.
But now we were headed into June, not far from Governor Holcomb’s Phase 5, and I’d been offered a full-time job. Granted, I’d been freelancing for PD&S since November 2019. However, former editor Bryce Mayer retired in March 2020 and the interim editor decided to follow another passion, so Barbara King asked me to come on full-time to help supplement articles.
And as I said, I started the Thursday before the Primary Election and was asked to cover it. I had never covered an election, having only ever voted twice in my life, and, even better, the election was on a Tuesday which meant I had to write up the article by 11 a.m. Wednesday morning in order to get it to print on time. I was thoroughly thrown in the deep end.
Little did I know the foreshadowing that was taking place.
I managed to submit the article on time, and from there I began to learn and build a routine. I started out with a few community pieces in addition to the school board beat I’d been assigned. More often than not, I submitted a feature story for the front page of the B Section. To this day people tell me my strongest skill is in writing lifestyle pieces.
In fact, some of my favorite articles I’ve written in the last year are my lifestyle pieces, particularly the one I wrote about a woman who grew up in North Vernon and was recently widowed with 14 children still at home. I especially love writing about young people like myself who are taking chances and chasing their dreams, including some people I went to high school with — like a musician and a cake decorator — or the daughter of a former PD&S photographer who is helping women in Uganda.
These people inspire me; they’re doing things I don’t know that I would have the courage or skill to do and they’re always so thrilled to see their hard work memorialized in their community paper.
I quickly took on writing the 25 Years Ago column and laying out the obituary pages. As I grew into the position of a full-time reporter, learning important names in the community, meeting prominent city and county officials and building bridges, I found myself in charge of articles with subjects completely foreign to me, like anything to do with construction, politics, or legal matters. But I was always so proud when I managed to deliver on an informative article that required extensive research, for which I was then able to transcribe into layman’s terms.
In doing so, I’ve learned I’m much more capable of writing about unfamiliar topics or topics not within my comfort zone than I thought I was. I’ve had to learn to problem solve and to act quickly in a time crunch. It’s also reminded me of something I already knew about myself, which is that I am dependable.
A skill I would love to master, however, is being able to sit down and have a conversation with someone and then afterward be able to write a full article about what transpired. Concentrating on what someone is saying, while trying to ask the right questions and taking accurate notes is not one of my strengths. Anyone I’ve had to interview in the past year knows my preference is email.
One of my strengths, on the other hand, is “my way with words,” my ability to write articles about topics that may easily garner negative connotations, like politics, but with a positive, constructive and non-biased approach. Simply put, I pride myself in being able to tell the truth without starting controversy.
But more recently and most importantly, I’ve had to learn to develop a thick skin.
Most readers will be aware that the Plain Dealer & Sun was sold to Paxton Media, whose corporate office is based in Kentucky, at the end of January 2021. Without warning, for three months I was the sole reporter responsible for providing an entire newspaper’s worth of written content. Me, someone who, unlike Barb and Bryce, does not have decades of experience and a familial lineage based in journalism. I do things differently, my mind works differently.
But I believe that is a GOOD thing.
I have come to look at the new paper as a chance for a fresh start, a new beginning, with younger minds and perspectives leading the way, a new generation of printed media. As LaMelo Ball said, “History is dependent on the new generation to write a new chapter.”
And to be honest, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. I say that with the utmost humility, because it is by the Grace of God that I’ve been able to step up and take on the challenge of publishing a weekly newspaper without the constant aid of the seasoned newspaper veterans that I used to rely on. However, I am happy and grateful for the wisdom of those with more experience, both at the paper and beyond.
I’m not infallible and I have and continue to make mistakes. That’s not easy to swallow when you’re mistakes are potentially seen by thousands of people.
I’ve said this before, but as a Christian, I feel God led me to work at my community newspaper for a reason. At first, I didn’t quite understand why until the paper was sold. Now, as one of two reporters, I have more say in the choice of content that is published and how it is presented. That is a major responsibility, and I wish to glorify God by doing his work through the newspaper. He guides me in each of my decisions and I wholeheartedly believe that I can serve Him while providing the public with succinct, accurate and relevant news every week.
It’s necessary for me to write about things that I’d rather not. Crimes and tragedies are unsettling to report. I’m also a people pleaser, so stirring the waters, addressing public opinions and keeping community leaders accountable can be discomforting, but I do it, because it’s my job. I mitigate myself by ensuring both sides have a chance to speak their peace.
Of course, I couldn’t do any of it without each and every person here at the North Vernon PD&S office, namely Sue Ross, Sharon Castetter and Morgan Webster, and the hard workers at corporate office in Kentucky. It is through all of us working together — the North Vernon office, the Jennings County community and corporate office — that the Plain Dealer & Sun continues to thrive for generations to come.
I don’t want recognition, I don’t want an award, I just want to a do a good job, to provide this service to my hometown and help sustain a longstanding tradition. I’ve managed to do my part for a year, so here’s to many more.