Reporting for the Birds

It’s my first day as a Chestertown reporter, and I’m already dealing with pest problems. I can only hope that when I move in to my more permanent work room tomorrow morning, it won’t be splattered with bird droppings.

I really can’t complain. Sure, the office that will serve as my writing nook for the summer was invaded by birds yesterday, but here’s the more important part: It’s going to be MY OFFICE. Starting tomorrow, I’ll feel less like an intern and more like a true reporter, with my very own space to make phone call after phone call after phone call.

The Kent County News building is snuggled in a row of small businesses on High Street. As you can see, Chestertown downtown is more of a quaint attraction area than it is the cultural nucleus for a bustling metropolis.

If there’s one thing I learned from my internship with the Herald-Mail last summer, it’s that real-world journalism (that is, working for a publication that isn’t affiliated somehow with a school, and one that ideally pays you under the impression that your paycheck is meant to sustain you and not just serve as spare coffee change) means a lot of sitting around waiting for people to return your calls. I’d estimate that more than half of my 40 hours a week were spent spinning around in my chair and leaving messages with government officials who seemed to be in a constant slew of meetings. As one County Commissioner told me when she finally answered week’s worth of messages I’d left at on her home, office, and cell numbers, “I’ll give you one thing: You’re persistent.”

Luckily, I have a bit more privacy with my Chestertown residency than I did in Hagerstown, so I can leave my awkward “Please call me back” pleas without the nagging worry that some veteran reporter is snickering at my unprofessionalism in the cubicle directly to my left.

The Herald-Mail newsroom was laid out in a stereotypical, daily mail way, with row after row of bland cubicles hosting row after row of frantic reporters and editors. In the constant buzz of police scanners, reporter jargon, and phone call transfers, making phone calls felt like trying to find an inch of space to talk in the middle of a sweaty rave concert; I tried to make my interviews as private as possible, but there was no way to shelter conversations completely from the other newsroom noises.

Here, I have my own little area to breathe. At the Herald, I was shoved into whatever corner cubicle was empty at the time, so I migrated around the newsroom on a weekly basis depending on who was on vacation at the time.

The Kent County News is a far more intimate and inviting, albeit creaky and old, space to work. It’s a narrow, tall two-story building crammed between a drug store and bank in the quaint, usually quiet, downtown of Chestertown. Not only are there actual doors separating reporters and editors from each other, but I’ve been assigned my own little office for these next eight-ish weeks.

As my luck would have it, I’ve been temporarily displaced. While my permanent office space is being debirded, I’m borrowing an absent reporter’s computer.

Even with the impermanence of my current situation, I feel much more comfortable here than I did in Hagerstown. It’s probably partly because I’m more confident in my ability to hold my own at a real-life reporter’s desk, but I think it’s also the warmth and hominess that comes with working for a newspaper that’s been the center of a small town since before the Civil War.

My current assignment about a 75-year-old man who plans to use his million-dollar lottery win on a new police scanner might not sound like an award-winning, controversial news story, but it’s the next record of Eastern Shore living to follow thousands of weekly articles. I’m the most recent in the line of innumerable writers whose bylines have been printed in the name of the Kent County News. The soft wooden desk on which I’m taking notes hasn’t been a part of the newspaper since the 1800s, but I’m sure there have been some incredible and moving small-town pieces that were recorded on its surface before me.

I’m anxious to hear back from “Mr. Lucky” the lottery winner, not because the story is going to immortalize me as a nationally recognized journalist, but because it will immortalize a worthy subject within the pages of a worthy newspaper.

Being a small-town journalist isn’t always the most adrenaline-pumping lines of work, particularly on muggy days like today that involve more thumb-twiddling than investigative reporting. But even though I’ve only been a member of the Kent County News team for a morning, I know one thing: I’m going to like it here.

*Note: As soon as my iPhone realizes that yes, there it DOES have a SIM card and decides to reconnect with the real world again, I’ll be uploading photos of my new summer place of work. So stay tuned!

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