Tag Archives: rural Iowa

Covering rural government hones follow-up questioning skills

I walked into Charlotte City Hall (which doubles as the police station), expecting a table encircled by suit-clad bigwigs.

A long hallway later, though, I walked into a cubicle-like space complete with mismatched chairs, a noisy (and I suspect, antique) air conditioning unit and the council — all clad in loungewear.

Rural government, I quickly discovered, is neither glamorous nor formal, and covering it requires a high level of follow-up questioning.

In covering two council meetings and a school board meeting for The Observer, I’ve learned the power of follow-up questioning and consequently, poise.

Rural council members refer to residents by first name or nickname only, so motions go something like this: “Motion to demolish Old Man Johnson’s house on that gravel road west of town.”

I felt like an interrogator asking question upon question about Old Man Johnson and the home.

Albeit confusing at moments, rural government has also taught me the value of poise. A solid question won’t receive a solid response until I show a potential source I’m invested in what he or she knows.

On the whole, moving to DeWitt has helped me hone my follow-up questioning and source-hunting skills.

I know whom to contact (and not to contact) for information at Drake, and potential sources likewise know I’m Times-Delphic editor-in-chief. Source-hunting has grown routine.

However, moving to a new town has honed my source-hunting skills. I exchanged, “Hello. It’s Taylor, again,” for, “Hello, I’m Taylor. It’s nice to meet you,” in my quest for information.

Now more than ever, I feel at ease approaching people I’ve never met and confidently asking questions.

The joy of dabbling

As a journalist, I enjoy dabbling. As a journalist in a small town, I dabble in rural culture. Though I’ve lived in Iowa for 20 years, I had (and have) a lot to learn about my home state’s signature trade: agriculture.

In just three weeks at The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve dabbled in barn quilting and grain elevator rescue, staples of rural Iowa living.

Last week, I drove 30 miles of snaking back roads to a ghost town (the whole town is a church, about 10 homes and what was once a general store) to watch a family barn-quilt.

Barn quilts are bright, color-block plywood squares that adorn the face of a barn. A grandmother, her son and 8-year-old granddaughter greeted me with strong handshakes, their palms splashed with neon paint.

They walked me through the barn-quilting steps from sawing the wood to touching up uneven lines and colors. Though I’m not a barn quilt whiz (yet), I enjoyed dabbling in a new trade.

Plus, if barn quilts storm the interior design world, I’ll be ahead of the craze.

A second time last week, I had the chance to dabble in another staple of rural living: the cofferdam. I admit, when assigned to cover Delmar’s new cofferdam, I spelled the machine as “coffer dam” (a sign of my urban roots).

When I got to the Delmar Fire Station Friday, three men welcomed me, beaming at a giant red tube. The tube, they explained, helps firefighters in a grain elevator emergency by reducing the force of the corn on the trapped victim.

Though I’m a young journalist, I’ve already had many chances to dabble in unexpected trades. This job gives me chances not only to meet and talk to new people but also experience a slice of their world.

While I hope to work in a city someday, I admit I enjoy dabbling in the trades and quirks of rural living.

Plus, I now know just what to give Mom for Christmas (a custom barn quilt for our front door, obviously).