Rural newspaper creates community

In just 15 days as an inhabitant of DeWitt, Iowa, my notions of “news” have changed drastically. This is my first job at a “big-kid” paper, The Observer, and on day one, I awaited the flood of “big-kid” stories — stories that rile the big wigs, stories that reveal misconduct, stories that question established social institutions.

In the past 15 days, though, I’ve realized rural towns rely on the paper not for red-faced big wigs or rumors of suspicious funding allocations.

Rural towns rely on the paper for community.

The “Family news” section draws rural readers, and when one family celebrates, the whole town celebrates.

On Friday, for instance, a lady stopped by the newsroom to buy an ad for her 75th high school reunion. The whole Observer staff congratulated her again and again, asking about the plans, her class and her life since high school.

In a world of bad news, the stories I cover in this town are refreshing.

A 2013 high school graduate who runs a self-developed community outreach program. The Lions Clubs that united to raise funds for a family that lost its home and beloved dogs in a fire. The project that allows each town in Clinton County to build a barn quilt for the upcoming county fair (Barn quilts, I discovered, are big, bright mosaics that decorate the top of a barn).

My “big-kid” stories here circle around community highlights, and though I hope to cover a controversial school board decision or questionable funding allocation at some point, I admit I’m enjoying the feel-good stories on my to-do list.

Though I plan to work in a major city in the future, I hope to take a slice of the DeWitt way with me. I hope to show my readers that the news is more than a whistle-blower and a bad-news bearer.

It’s a channel for community.

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