Tag Archives: DeWitt

Internship at rural newspaper reinforces desire to serve readers

“Ten weeks, 55 work days,” I calculated in May, skeptical I’d survive — let alone thrive — in the rural town of DeWitt, Iowa. When I walked into The Observer 55 days ago, I had one goal: to write my naïve idea of “big” stories (corporate corruption, government fraud, social injustice and the like).

At The Observer, however, I covered a container gardening competition, barn quilting and a city council meeting where the “debate” revolved around new holiday decorations (elves vs. snowmen) for the lone city park.

While my work hardly fit my preconceived idea of “hard” news, I realized “big” stories aren’t limited to fraud and corporate exploitation. “Big” stories serve the readers, and the readers determine the definition, whether it’s revealing government corruption or explaining container gardening guidelines.

Before my time at The Observer, I presumed reporters at bi-weekly and weekly papers had simpler, easier work lives. While deadlines aren’t as severe at a rural paper, rural reporters face their own workplace challenges.

Overlapping newsroom roles, for instance, interrupt the fluid thought process necessary for writing on deadline. At The Observer, staff members dabble in nearly every facet of production in a back-and-forth, whiplash-worthy cycle.

The sports editor, for instance, doubles as a receptionist. The copy editor doubles as bookkeeper. The photo editor doubles as legal typist and page designer.

With disparate roles intersecting, Observer reporters face near-constant pressure to multitask. As a result, I learned to appreciate the moments dedicated to a single story. I am not entitled to a natural flow of ideas, as I naively believed.

While I didn’t achieve the one goal I set, I left The Observer with a sense of accomplishment, an arsenal of portfolio-ready stories, a “Big Bang Theory” care package from the staff, a newsroom of people rooting for me and most of all, a renewed desire to let the readers guide every word I write.

Landing my dream interview

The unexpected joys of intern life

Me and American professional tennis player Madison Keys

One word describes my time in The Observer newsroom this summer: unexpected.

When I unpacked my AP Stylebook, notepad, click erasers and voice recorder into my blindingly teal desk June 3, I never expected to hunt mushrooms or paint barn quilts — at work.

Most of all, though, I never expected to meet and interview a professional tennis player in DeWitt, Iowa.

I’ve loved tennis since I picked up a racket at 15, and I usually gush about Swiss icon Roger Federer just 10-15 minutes into a chat with someone new. When my managing editor assigned me a feature piece about 18-year-old American pro Madison Keys, who has family in town, I was elated.

As I watched Keys play in the third round of Wimbledon on my laptop, I couldn’t believe I’d meet her in a few days.

As she pounded groundstrokes over the net, I scribbled pages of notes about her — her career record (84-48), her favorite player growing up (Belgium’s Kim Clijsters), her world ranking (No. 52, as of July 7).

Finally, I wrote the kind of questions I before had only dreamed of writing — questions about net play, the demands of the Women’s Tennis Association tour, match superstitions and slice shots.

Despite my meticulous preparation, I walked to Keys’ aunt’s house slowly on Friday, at once timid and eager.

Her warm smile instantly eased any qualms I had, and I couldn’t stop smiling as we delved into the world of aces, rankings, rackets and Grand Slams.

Writing about Madison Keys cemented my goal to work as a tennis writer someday. While I’ll never reach her level in my own game or lace my sneakers at Wimbledon, I get a thrill when I write about tennis.

When I write about tennis, my MacBook Pro is my own Centre Court at Wimbledon — and I always win.

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.