By the people, for the people

(Warning: This blog post is overflowing with cheese and gushiness. Read at your own risk.)

I was a tad bit glass-half-empty for my last post, and looking back, I feel somewhat guilty. It’s one thing to analyze the fate of your passion and muse, but it’s another to rant and rave when your own luck in the field is on the upswing. My summer internship has been an incredible blessing, and while I enjoy the cathartic aspect of blogging and its magnificence as a forum for criticism and contemplation, I’d like to take a devil’s advocate moment and reflect on the rewarding reader responses I’ve had the honor of receiving.

Last week, I had two front page, above-the-fold articles, but  as always, I found it hard to imagine that people were actually reading and digesting my words. I know the numbers, the facts: Thousands of people have subscriptions to the Kent News, and although they don’t all read every single word of every single article in the newspaper, my writing went places. Surely, at least some people read my stories, but that’s a difficult concept to register completely when I so rarely recieve a response. Every once in a while, though, I hear back about my work, and I remember that there’s power in journalism.

I remember my first giddy awakening last summer. My editor assigned me a fluffy, bland story on my first day in the office, something so seemingly unimportant that even if I misspelled half the names and wrote it in a lopsided octagon form instead of inverted pyramid, it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference. So I wrote the article, a tiny little piece about a church yard sale, playing phone tag with different organizers and jotting down as many emotion-packed quotes as possible. A funny thing happened as I talked to my sources, though, something I didn’t expect so early on in my internship; I got swept away in the story. The people who spearheaded the yard sale weren’t used to publicity or fame, and they were ecstatic to talk to someone from The Herald-Mail, even a lowly summer intern. I spiced up the story as much as I could with a catchy lede and my favorite quotes, then turned it over to the fateful hands of the evening copy staff.

The next morning, I saw my first byline in a daily newspaper, but I also saw something even more inspiring: A message in my email inbox from the director of the church giveaway. She thanked me for my write-up, for giving something so small and undervalued a place in a bustling newspaper, for working hard on something that was somewhat tucked away in the inside pages, something that probably wasn’t too well-read.

I was thrilled.

People don’t often think of journalism as a humanistic career. The common, skewed image is a horde of paparazzi, gossip-hungry reporters who care more about breaking big stories than treating their subjects and stories with respect. There are some of those writers out there. I’ve met them, and they scare me. It worries me that some people, even those in its front lines, think journalism is simply an avenue for destroying reputations and embarassing celebrities. But I like to think that most of us care about what we do and what it means.

I got two invigorating responses about my Kent County work last Friday, and once again, I remembered why I love my job.

The first was an email from the young woman whose 4-H project I highlighted in an article last Thursday. It ended up as the dominant front pager that week, complete with a heartwarmingly delicious photo of my subject with one of her favorite cows. The story was supposed to garner interest in donating to her 4-H project, and she emailed to tell me she’d already gotten five responses.

Almost as soon as I finished reading her note, I got a phone call from the patriarch barber I’d interviewed for an article the week earlier. He said he loved my story and that he, his son and his grandson had gotten no end of positive feedback from their customers, many of whom are weekly Kent County subscribers.

Sure, I write for a tiny, smallish-circulation newspaper. Some people might think it mundane or silly that I find such pride in spending my afternoons interviewing and writing about dairy farmers and barbers. But the people I highlight in my stories do beautiful, monumental things for their communities. I love giving them the room they deserve on the front page and knowing that, years from now, their names will still be in the paper’s archives as beloved and valued members of their towns.

Like I said earlier, there’s power in the press. And I like to use it for good.

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