People often ask me why I stay in Yankton and work at a small daily newspaper.
I think that’s a common question many Midwesterners in small communities are asked (often by one another): Why do you stay in x to do y? Why not go to a bigger x and do a different y in a cooler place?
Well, I had the pleasure of reading an interview today with Ken Ward Jr., a long-time journalist at The Charleston Gazette who covers the coal industry. My answer to the above question would be somewhat similar to his. Unlike Ward, I do get my fair share of assignments (like the annual Black Friday sales story, which I dread because it is inevitably the same thing every year), but I also get a lot of freedom to do what I want. Autonomy is a big deal.
If you have a few minutes, it’s well worth your time to read the whole interview with Ward. Here is the relevant excerpt for this discussion:
Working at a paper the size of the Gazette in this economy is not the most fun thing in the world all the time, and on days when it’s not very much fun, it’s like, “God, why did I do this, am I crazy?” I don’t want to wake up in twenty years and think I missed some great opportunities. I’ve had chances to go to other places—bigger newspapers, a lot more money, more readers. I remember one interview, I went in asking this editor a bunch of questions, trying to see if she would convince me that this was a move I should make. I said, “Let me describe to you what I do now. I set my own agenda for what I’m going to do each day. I don’t get assignments, or very seldom get assignments; my editors trust me to sort out what’s important. So basically, I do what I want. Can you offer me a job doing that?” And of course they all say, “Wellll…” And I say, “Okay, when you can offer me that, call me.” I don’t get too many calls like that. I know people who work at bigger places that essentially get to do that; they get a year to work on one story so they can try to win another Pulitzer, or turn it into their next book. And that’s great, and there are people that do that whose work I admire a lot, and who have been great mentors to me. But I also know the kind of fights they have at bigger places, with layer after layer of editors or bureaucracy and, you know, the six months’ worth of investigative work they did gets hacked in half at the whim of some editor who may or may not know anything about the subject matter. That doesn’t appeal to me. My wife would say I’m too bullheaded and don’t like anybody telling me what to do, and she’s probably right. West Virginia’s my home. I’ve never lived anyplace else. It is impossibly rich with things for a reporter to cover. Right now I’m focusing on coal. I’ve written about a lot of other things, and I have a huge list of things I still want to write about. And I can’t think of many places that are in need of good journalism more than West Virginia is, or what higher calling journalists have than to try to write stories that make their home a better place.
Like my Grandpa Kayser always says, someone has to stay home and make it a place that those who left will want to come back to. Of course, we all hope to make it a better place than when they left. I like to think I do my own small part toward meeting that goal.