Independence Day on the Chester River

I’m assigned plenty of busy work as part of my duties as the “lowly intern” as one of my coworkers likes to jokingly call me. My favorite of these sometimes mundane but necessary and intern-worthy assignments is compiling each week’s early files.

This newspaper dates back to pre-Civil War times, and we take full advantage of our history here in Chestertown. Each week, the newspaper runs clippings from old issues, dating from as far back as 150 years. So every Friday, I scour the towering bookshelves lining the hallway to the back room, pulling out enormous collections of yellowed newspapers. I start with the earliest, 1862, then work my way up, from 150 year ago to 75 years ago (the 100 year-old issues are in fragile enough condition that we can’t even open their book) to 50 to 25 to 10 years ago.

I’m particularly fond of browsing through the 1937 issues, both because of my personal fascination with the time period and the fascinating department store and film ads.

But as a belated Independence Day blog post, I’m focusing on the July 5, 1862 issue today. A few things to note about Civil War issues of this local newspaper: They are laden with quips toward the Confederacy:

A GOOD JOKE: The Richmond Examiner states that, as a result of the late battles, Confederate stocks rose from 93 to 97 cents–payable in Confederate note currency ! It would have been the same thing had they advanced to 197, for both are equally worthless, and a cart load of them would not command a dollar in hard money nowhere in the world outside of rebeldom!

– July 5, 1862

They insert non-political (and oftentimes racist, unfortunately) jokes randomly between news stories:

“Can you give me bills for a ten dollar gold piece?” asked a very pretty young lady of a young man named William, who was tending store.

“No, I cannot,” was the reply.

“Can you oblige me with a single Bill?” she asked.

“Well yes, I guess so–you see they call me Bill, and I’m single, and am entirely at your service.”

– July 5, 1862

And they are beautifully written. Even the most mundane of articles, like regular updates on the wheat crop, are composed in a delicate, almost poetic style. It’s a dramatic contrast to the clear, concise news writing journalists are trained in today. It makes the articles especially entertaining to read.

Some of the most eloquent write-ups are the obituaries. Today, I came across a death notice for a Civil War veteran, born and raised on the Chester River, and also an alumni of our very own Washington College. The first was published soon after his death:

Departed this life, in Memphis, Tenn., the first week in May last, Mr. BENJAMIN C. VICKERS, aged 26 years, and fourth son of George Vickers, Esq., of Chestertown.

The death of Mr. V. was caused by a wound received at the battle of Shiloh, in the first week in April. The deceased with in the battle of Belmont and escaped unhurt.  He was formerly in a large grocery house in this city, an displayed much talent and tact at his calling.

He was educated at Washington College, possessed considerable talent, was intelligent, quick in his perceptions, and of indomitable perseverance. No obstacle was too great for him to surmount. He was courteous, kind, and of noble and generous impulse. He was an affectionate and dutiful son, kind brother and a true friend. His ear was every open to hear, and hand ever ready to relieve, where distress or charity presented their claims. Had he lived, he would have become prominent and successful in his vocation.

Although he lingered and suffered in a land of strangers, yet there the heart of sympathy was found, and the soft hand of friends to smooth his dying pillow. It is said he died in “hope of glorious resurrection.” His parents and relatives have sustained a heavy loss, and a sad bereavement, but may they be consoled “though he cannot come to them, they can go to him.” May he rest in peace, and although the affectionate hand of a mother may not be able to plant the flower at his grave, yet the consolation is, that he rests in peace, where he the cannon’s roar and the din of battle are not heard, and that in the morning of resurrection he shall rise, clothed in white, and in a new body be caught up to dwell forever with the Lord.

The second article went into a bit more detail about his last days:
From the Baltimore American of the 24th.

THE LATE BENJAMIN C. VICKERS. – We have already announced the decease of Mr. Benjamin C. Vickers, son of Gen. George Vickers, of this place, but were unable, at the time, to give any particulars respecting it. We have now the circumstances attending his death, which may prove interesting to a large and sorrowing circle of friends.

Mr. Vickers was at the battle of Shiloh, and seemed to have a presentiment that he would fall in that battle, for in his pocket was found a paper with his name and company written upon it, as also a request that if he fell in battle his father should be informed of it. He was wounded by a minie ball in the thigh near the joint, which broke the bone, and in its course upwards lacerated the integuments and muscles, and when extracted was found flattened to the size of a quarter dollar.

This was on the sixth of April. He was taken to Memphis, to the house of a relative of a friend, where he had every care and attention, and where he died on the third of May, in the twenty-sixth year of his age. Two weeks previous to his disease, and when it because apparent that his wound would prove fatal, he was married to Miss Houston, of Tennessee, niece of Gen. Sam. Houston, of Texas, to whom he was engaged previous to entering the army, and who devoted herself to him with that spirit and tenderness which belongs only to woman.
During his whole illness he was perfectly calm and resigned, and expressed the utmost confidence that he had made his peace with God. A few days before his death he partook of the Communion, and after having sent his remembrances to each of his family, and expressing a great desire to see his mother, and that his father sho9uld be informed that he was not afraid to die, he passed away calmly and peacefully, and almost without a struggle.

And thus passed away our young friend, whose death thus early was triumphant: By his noble and generous qualities he appears to have attracted a large circle of friends in his new home, who manifested a deep interest in his condition and contributed largely to his comforts him his sickness by their attention and sympathies; and as a soldier, his chivalrous bearing at the battle of Shiloh won for him the tribute due to a brave and gallant man; but all this is nau8ght compared to the ever-lasting source of consolation which should bear up his immediate family in their unexpected calamity. Amid the gloom and despondency surrounding them, they have a balm for the wounded sp9irit which must be ever present – their son “died without fear, and in the blessed hope of a joyful resurrection.”

My college is working on a veteran recognition project right now, the first official memorandum we’ve ever offered for the men and women who gave their service, and sometimes lives, to their country. I actually wrote an article on the endeavor last semester, so it was just my luck to run across an article on a Civil War alumni, and only two days after the Fourth of July at that.

I read and reread those two articles for about 15 minutes this morning, imagining what this Benjamin Vickers, who studied, laughed, drank, and learned on the very same campus where I live now, may have been like. It was a harsh reminder for me of the realism of war. Americans have become accustomed to seeing battle and bloodshed as a distant blip on their radar, yet another tragedy to litter news stations and papers. But in the 19th century, war was personal. George Vickers was a real father whose young son was lost to war, and his sorrow and pain were just as heavy as any mourning parents’ today.

This discovery was also a rejuvenating moment for me. As a journalist, I have a part to play in history, too. If it hadn’t been for the anonymous reporter who talked to this young man’s family, or the printer who placed all the individual stamps into the letterpress, Benjamin would be lost to history. If it hadn’t been for them, the 150th anniversary of his death would be forgotten, his name never forwarded to the Washington College alumni office to be listed on their veterans memorial website.

So I’m proud of many things today. I’m proud to be a Washington College student, earning a liberal arts education along the same paths and in the same buildings that once hosted hundreds of brave men and women who went on to serve their country. I’m proud to be a journalist, someone who can immortalize pain, triumph, and sacrifice, so stories can be found and retold again some day. And I’m proud to be an American.

So happy Fourth of July, readers, and let’s remember those who deserve it.

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Seeing Double

My favorite part of grocery shopping is meandering out of the store with my new purchases swinging beside me, taking in the sweet satisfaction of my own, money-guzzling independence. And then there’s that delicious moment when, as I’m flipping open my awesome switchblade-style car keys (one of the many perks of owning a bug), I pause to flip through the stack of newspapers sitting beside the ATM and coins-to-cash machine.

I’m always brainstorming ideas for design improvements for The Elm, so even if I don’t have time to read any of the stories, I at least scan the front pages for an inspirational information box or graphic. We’re a tabloid sized paper, so we can’t copycat too many layout ideas even if we wanted to, but occasionally I stumble across something that sparks my imagination and makes me want to zip right back to the Publishing House and play with inDesign.

This weekend, while I was shopping with the family during my Father’s Day visit home, the familiar pile of papers caught my attention, and veered away from my parents’ preoccupation with a finicky self-checkout machine to do some front page browsing. The first that caught my eye was The Washington Post. As a D.C. regular, it holds particular interest for me, and always jump at the chance to read about one of my favorite cities in one of my favorite forums. The photos were, of course, intriguing and strong, and the design was crisp and clean.

The front page for The Washington Post’s last Sunday issue.

Satisfied, I investigated the other publications on the shelves. It’s not every day that a grocery store in Frederick, Md. stocks The New York Times, so I picked up the thick ream of paper for a quick perusal.

And the Sunday front page for The New York Times.

If it weren’t for the differing titles, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the two newspapers apart.

Both had a dominant feature photo on the lefthand side of the page. Both had a main, two-column article to the right of the photo. Under the photo, both featured two stories, a one-column and then a more prominent three-column.

Both layouts worked, but I was struck by how the two front pages were virtually identical. I hate to accuse the designers of being unimaginative, but I was certainly disappointed. Here I was, a young journalist hungry for inspiration and innovation, and I found myself glancing at two of the country’s most respected publications, both with the same, standard front page.

The brighter side of my observation is that there’s still consistancy in elements of design. In the upheaval of journalism so many of us are trembling under right now, it’s nice to know that print designers are sticking to the same, effective, time-tested techniques. Both front pages boasted a dominant photo, a clearly dominant story placed above the fold with a bold, strong headline, less prominent stories lower on the page, and other elements to spice up the look of the page, such as subheads and info boxes.

I never got any official training in layout or inDesign. I learned the art of Adobe through trial-and-error in high school, so I’ve developed my own, very personalized style. I’ve strengthened my skills as a news editor these last two years in college, working on a weekly news cycle instead of a sporadic schedule from high school. When you’re designing the same four pages of a section week after week after week, it’s easy to get into a rut. By the second semester of my junior year, layout had become formulaic, swapping old stories for new ones and doing simple rearrangements of text and graphics.

During our trip to the Associated Collegiate Press conference in my spring semester, however, I remembered why I love design. I love it because it can be artistic. I love it because there’s a concrete, definite goal (getting all the stories on the page) but a designer has the freedom to use his or her skills to make a page as effective and aesthetic as possible. The speakers at the ACP conference reminded our burned out college brains to bring some life back into our newspapers, to take risks and try radical design concepts. We’re students after all; we’re at school to learn, and what better way to learn than to try something new, fail, and try again?

We came back and electrified our design. We scrapped our old, horizontal “In this Issue” bar and tested out new design methods with it each week instead. We used color blocks and shading, different font sizes and styles. We integrated cutouts and treating the masthead as something unchangeable and permanent. Some issues were better than others, but people noticed out hard work. We got more compliments on our newspaper those last few months than we had all year.

I understand where those newspaper designers whose work I reviewed last weekend were coming from. There are conventions we use as designers. They’re conventional for a reason: They work. Those guys in D.C. and New York know what they’re doing. They’re getting paid to make pages look clean and effectively showcase photos and stories.

I feel pretty damn lucky to still be in college. I’m not getting paid to be perfect. In fact, I’m hardly getting paid to work at all. I’m on staff to learn, so I’m going to take as many risks as I can.

Down on the Farm

Something about me must read “loves cows.” Either that, or fate is trying to tell me that I have a future in dairy farming, a completely laughable concept considering my aversion to mud, muck, manure, and all things smelly and farm-like. Yet I find myself, for the second summer in a row, writing a story about dairy cows.

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The dairy barn where I spent my second Monday afternoon.

Last, summer, one of my long-term research projects was about the economics of dairy farming, which is far more complicated and jargon-filled than I anticipated. Before I even made a phone call to one of the many farming families I contacted over the course of those few weeks, I spent countless hours looking up statistics and definitions about the price of fluid form milk prices per hundredweight, the rising cost of farmland and coop farming business versus individually-owned farms.

I ended up pretty proud of my hard work on the assignment. Although I was initially uninspired by the subject matter, it was a story that not only needed to be told, but one that turned out to be more interesting than I ever could have expected.

Yesterday, I was back on the farm.

A local girl is working on the very first level 6 4-H Diamond Clover project in the history of her school. This is like the 4-H version of the Eagle Scout: It involves 75 hours of community service as well as packets of documentation and records.

And so, camera hefted around my neck, I headed off to Still Pond for the first time to take notes and photos of a high school girl and her cows.

I felt ridiculous pulling in to the farm’s gravel driveway in my shiny silver Beetle. The other three vehicles were dust-covered, giant-wheeled pick-ups, and here I was, I self-proclaimed city-lover equipped with a GPS, iPhone, digital camera, and butt-warming car.

And I was stupid enough to wear sandals.

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So much mud…Those are my interviewee’s shoes, by the way. I was trekking around in flimsy, plastic sandals.

To give myself some credit, I didn’t bring many shoes with me to campus for the summer. I didn’t think far enough ahead to consider that I might end up covering a story that involved sloshing through piles of mud and gunk to take good shots of cows. But here I was.

My interviewee was simply delightful. She drove me down to her personal barn, introduced me to some of her favorite cows (she owns 14 in all), and beamed as she recounted her favorite memories with her pets. After I snapped a few shots of her cooing over her cows, she dashed off to the milking barn. (she milks three days a week, and it takes a couple of hours total. She also wakes up at the crack of dawn to feed all her animals before school, then comes back for at least three hours after school for more feeding and work. Oh, and did I mention she’s president of the 4-H club, vice president of FFA, in National Honors Society, and is the Eastern Shore’s reigning Dairy Princess?)

Despite the copious amounts of research I did on the dairy farming world last summer, I never got the chance to immerse myself firsthand in what I wrote about. I talked about cows on the phone, but I never met one of them. I read about the skyrocketing price of milk and how it’s affecting farmers, but I didn’t actually drive to a local dairy farm and shake hands with one of the owners. At the Herald-Mail, there are photographers to go out and do the dirty work for us (I use the term dirty work literally in this case); all I had to do was fill out a photo request sheet and post it on the assignment bulletin board.

In Chestertown, reporters take their own photos. I’m not a naturally-gifted photographer, but I’m certainly glad I had the chance this time. I haven’t started writing the story yet, but I have a feeling that the the rawness of my afternoon yesterday — Prancer’s velvety nose, the vinegar smell of fly-spray from the milking barn, the soft squelches that the farmers’ crusty boots made in the mud — will find its way into my writing.

I talked about how hard farmers worked in my article last summer, but I didn’t really understand what I was saying. This time, I’ll go into the writing process with more than just facts and figures. This time, I have a real story to tell.

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I know this picture isn’t particularly relevant in terms of my blog, but…I had no idea udders could be this big. Wow.

Proof that I’m a newspaper nerd.

Aside from Memorial Day (which I spent recovering from Tea Party weekend), this is my first real day off since joining the Kent News staff.

My morning consisted of: mingling with local farmers and dog-walkers at the Chestertown farmer’s market; finally procuring an official Kent County library card and loading myself up with books; watching the ducks splash around on the water while parents encouraged their kids to feed them breadcrumbs despite the clearly-visible signs warning people not to feed the birds; and browsing through bargain racks at a few consignment stores.

My afternoon was spent holed up in the publications house, getting everything ready for August.

Publications Boot Camp (Washington College’s version of newspaper editor training) starts August 20, but I’ve been so inspired by my internship that I’ve already thrown myself headfirst into the planning process. When I’m not spending my spare evenings watching dorky movies or cooking with my best friend, I’m doing something Elm related. So far, that’s included writing a staff manual (don’t ask me why we’ve never had one before), reading college newspaper blogs and websites (collegemediamatters and Charles Apple are my new obsessions), compiling training material, decorating the Elm office with memes and front page examples, and making fresh templates for inDesign.

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Giving the Elm’s front page a little TLC.

I love doing layout. I love configuring text and graphics on a crisp white computer screen and seeing everything the staff and I have slaved over for days on end pop onto a page. Design is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle: Some weeks you have 100 pieces, other weeks 1,000, but after a cups of coffee and a motivational Pandora radio station, you always make the pieces fit.

Today, I discovered the wide and wonderful world of free font downloads.

I’m not a font connoisseur like some designers (the movie Helvetica was mind-blowing and, honestly, somewhat terrifying), but I can recognize a font that I like for the Elm when I see one. So after about an hour of scanning free download sites, I picked my favorites and put them to the test.

Our front page is already beaming.

We don’t need a redesign, per se. Our layout is pretty crisp if I do say so myself. But it can always use a little freshening up, and it’s amazing how a new headline font will brighten a page.

Not-So-Smooth Criminal Reporting

I doubled my number of bylines in the Kent News this week. By that, I mean I had two stories in the newspaper, one of which ended up above the fold on the front page, so I’m moving my way up in the newspaper world, pica by pica.

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This is how I imagined working on the crime beat should be.

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And this is how I felt.

My front page story was unavoidably fluffy. I swooned into the two-day Tea Party celebration this weekend, hypnotized by the fifes and drums and mesmerized by the dramatic re-enactment of Chestertown’s patriot forebearers.

But there aren’t too many exciting ways to rehash an article about a small town’s annual Memorial Day celebrations. I tried to spice up my retelling of the event as much as possible, interviewing vendors and re-enactors and painting colonial Chestertown scenes with descriptive prose (which turned out to be overkill considering how many accompanying photos we ran with the story). The results of my efforts were passable, but despite my sweat and tears (the former is literal: It was steaming hot last weekend) my article felt like just another event coverage blurb, soon to be stacked up among the reams of archived books and forgotten.

My other story is deceptively dull. Unlike the Tea Party, my 425-word article about six people who were charged with trying to smuggle drugs into the county jail looks like any other bland, small-town crime story, crammed onto the A7 page under the police blotter and next to an article about some guy who stabbed his friend with a stick.

I doubt any of my readers (provided anyone read that article, which I wouldn’t bet on) had any idea how much sweat and tears (the former isn’t literal this time. The latter isn’t either, but it’s close; I didn’t cry, but I got pretty frazzled working on this one) went into the behind-the-scenes reporting.

It started with a press release. My editor told me to read over the two-page police report listing the charges and a basic summary of the sequence of events. As amused as I was by the alleged smugglers’ stupidity (mailing heroin to your boyfriend in a greeting card is pretty careless way to commit a felony) I wasn’t looking forward to researching and writing the story myself.

My only experience with crime reporting up until last week was shadowing the court reporter at the Herald-Mail and writing a follow-up on drug charges for my school newspaper.

There’s a reason I’ve avoided crime reporting. It doesn’t have to do with any discomfort with court rooms or a fear of talking to criminals. I don’t mind having to pass through a metal detector or ask for official documents in order to get the facts for a story, as bothersome as it may be. I’m just terrified of getting something wrong.

I’ve made mistakes before. I’ve misspelled names and had some serious face-palm moments when I notice typos I missed when I pick up a printed Elm. But my tiny slip-ups thusfar pale in comparison to the potential heap of trouble I could wind up in if I made a factual error on a crime beat.

Maybe my editor recognized my discomfort. Maybe she noticed some expression of sheer panic on my face as I read that first press release, or maybe she remembers what it was like as a rookie herself. Regardless, she took pity on me. She eased me into the story, talking me through how to read court documents, going to the courthouse with me, giving me phone numbers for the warden and sheriff, and, of course, reading my final product over with me aloud, word for word.

It’s not an exciting article. There’s nothing enticing about my word choice and I didn’t snag any memorable quotes from the detectives I called. My first crime beat story isn’t vibrant or front-page worthy, but I’m much prouder of it than I am my photo-laden Tea Party article. For the first time in a while, I reported outside of my comfort zone.

I’m sure that if I keep up with this, writing articles, big and small, for a community newspaper, the thrill of publishing crime stories will wear off. But now, I’m still reeling from my police report coverage. Hopefully, years from now, when the buzz of crime journalism has gone stale, I can look back at my third Kent County News byline and get a little bit of that fear and excitement back.

Cream, sugar, and a whole lot of fun: Tea time in C-Town

I am sunburned. I am tired. I am sweaty. I am a survivor of the annual Chestertown Tea Party.

The Tea Party parade was sometimes a little loud….

The start of my Memorial Day weekend consisted of 12 hours of battling crowds under a scorching summer sun, an oversized camera looped around my neck, a flip video camera in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other.

As exhausted and achy as I am though, even feeling like an invasive, nosy reporter didn’t prevent me from having a spectacular time downtown.

For those of you who don’t know (and most of you probably don’t), the Chestertown Tea Party is an annual celebration of the town’s rebellion against the British in 1774. According to legend, a group of furious freedom-fighting C-town residents rallied together in fury over the new British tea taxes, marched down to the river, and, following the example of their brave Boston brothers, dumped all the English tea overboard (along with a few redcoats, naturally).

EVERYONE, young and old, came out to celebrate.

But here’s the kicker: There’s no historical evidence that the tea party actually happened. The earliest direct mention of the legendary rebellion is from 1899, and it’s not even that reliable of a source. Even if the tea party was as monumental as its reenactors present it to be, there’s a good chance the story has been emebellished over the years as it was passed down from generation to generation, mostly recorded by storytellers in taverns and beside family fireplaces.

There were undeniably residents who disagreed with taxation without representation. A group of them drafted the famous Chestertown Resolves, in fact, which listed the town’s grievances against its motherland:

1st- RESOLVED, that we acknowledge his majesty George III, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, to be our rightful and lawful sovereign to whom we owe and promise all dutiful allegiance and submission.

2nd – RESOLVED, that no duty or taxes can constitutionally be opposed on us, but by our own consent given personally, or by our own representatives.

3rd – RESOLVED, that the act of the British parliament of the 7th of George III, chapter 46, subjecting the colonies to a duty on tea, for the purpose of raising revenue in America, is unconstitutional, oppressive and calculated to enslave the Americas.

4th – RESOLVED, therefore, that whoever shall import, or in any way aid or assist in importing, or introducing from any part of Great Britain, or any other place whatsoever, into this town or country, any tea subject to the payment of a duty imposed by the aforesaid act of Parliament: or whoever shall willingly and knowingly sell, buy or consume, in any way assist with the sale, purchase or consumption of any tea imported as aforesaid subject to a duty, he or they, shall be stigmatized as enemies to the liberties of America.

5th – RESOLVED, that we will not only steadily adhere to the foregoing resolves, but will endeavor to excite our worthy neighbors to a like patriotic conduct, and to whoever, amongst, shall refuse his concurrence, or after complying, shall desert the cause, and knowingly deviate from the true spirit and meaning of these our resolutions, w will mark him out and inimical to the liberties of America, and unworthy member of the community, ad a person not deserving our notice our regard.

6th – RESOLVED, that the foregoing resolves be printed, that our brothers in the and other colonies may now our sentiments as therein contained.

Pretty awesome, right? This looks like it was copied right out of a history textbook. Not many towns can say they have documented history of their courageous, revolutionary fight for independence.

Naturally, the annual celebrationis Chestertown’s biggest weekend. Thousands of locals and tourists gather in the center of town each Memorial weekend to sing, dance, dress up, eat, drink (and drink and drink and drink) and reenact their forefathers’ rally for freedom.

One Chestertown revolutionary, bracing himself for what will one day become a legendary tale of heroics and freedom-fighting.

The tea party celebration is almost as legendary as the supposed event it is based on. In my years living in Chestertown during the school year, I’ve heard locals tell of the unimaginably enormous crowds and street vendors that occupy the otherwise sleepy main streets of town. I tried to picture a group of colonially-garbed residents marching down to the river with guns slung across their shoulders and the parade of men, women, and children following them, but to no avail. I had to actually participate to really understand why the Chestetown Tea Party is the legend it’s become.

I was skeptical (yes, very reporter-ish of me, I know) as I interviewed vendors and residents about their experience. “What’s the point in commemorating an event that might not have even happened?” I thought, as I scribbled down shorthand quotes of “It’s awesome!” and “Down with the British!”

Then then reenactment began. At 2:00, the colonial Chestertownians leapt onto a circle of wooden barrels, and above an eager crowd, declared their enmity against their British taxers. The proverbial march to the sea followed, with the rebels regularly halting to fire their guns at the opposing redcoats.

Something magical happened to the crowd. Suddenly, swept down High Street with the people among whom I usually buy groceries and wait at stoplights, I was in colonial Chestertown. Everyone, myself included, hollered and cheered for freedom under the fierce May sun (which was about as oppressive as any redcoat, I imagine). We applauded when our modest rowboat crept up beside the British cargo ship and the Chestertownians hopped on board. We craned our necks and stood on tiptoe to get as good a view as possible of the  sword and fist fights between the British and soon-to-be-Americans. We watched in awe as bundles of tea crashed into the Chester River, and we clapped until our hands were pink and raw as the American flag was finally hurled into the air.

Today, I understand what it means to be a Chestertownian. Who cares if the Tea Party actually happened or not? Even if there was no literal tossing of the tea 200 years ago, there certainly was today. We made real something that may or may not have actually occurred, but the historical accuracy doesn’t really matter after all.

Even if our Chestertown forefathers didn’t have a tea party on the Chester River, one thing’s for sure: They’re watching us somewhere, peeking down at our antics under their three-cornered hats, and I’m sure they couldn’t be prouder.

The rebels, guns smoking as they head toward the Chester River.

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!