When people ask me about my college experience one of the first questions is always, “What is your major?” They seem excited when I tell them I chose journalism and then, of course, giggle and say, “Maybe one day we’ll read your stuff in The New York Times?” I never understand the giggle because I aim high and who wouldn’t want to work at The Times?
People always associate journalism with major publications like USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Times. Little do they know that many of the best journalists in the country make their living working for community newspapers. I am honored to say that my first experience with community journalism was this summer as the intern for both The Citizen Voice and Times in Estill County and The Clay City Times in Powell County.
My first week on the job my editor let me know that she would be taking vacation at the end of June and that she would spend the first three weeks of my internship preparing me to do her job while she was gone. I spent those weeks following her around the county and becoming acquainted with the office, my co-workers and, most importantly, the people in the community.
I made several trips to the courthouse where I was greeted with smiling faces and good conversation as I copied the police records, marriage records, land transfer deeds and civil suits. The good thing about a small town is that you can expect to see someone you know in every store, every restaurant and at every event you attend. The hearts of small town people are huge and each time I would see someone I had been introduced to they would smile, wave, start conversation and even hug me as if I was a real member of the community.
My first major assignment was to compile several stories about local cancer survivors who participate in the Relay for Life annually. People whom I had never met shared with me what came to be called “survivor stories.” They told me about losing their hair, the sadness their families felt, the lack of energy they struggled with, and the countless treatments they endured. By the end of the week, I had enough content to fill a whole page of the CV&T. The stories were truly touching and I learned a lot about how to conduct myself in an interview, even when emotions are running high.
Before I even knew I was doing it, I was writing three to five stories a week, attending school board meetings, traveling around town to do interviews, making call after call about potential stories, tracking down school board members and researching stories about local veterans and the construction of a new school. I stayed late after work to take pictures of little league teams. I even learned to use InDesign!
When I should have been stressed out, felt overworked and ready to cry I was having the time of my life. By the time my editor was ready for vacation I felt confident that I could manage to do her job. I covered fair week, wrote features, completed a column, took pictures and designed pages just as I had learned to do. I, of course, was offered plenty of help from the staff at the CV&T. On Thursday morning I sighed a breath of relief when I picked up the issue that I had worked so hard on.
I was proud of my accomplishment and I felt a sense of confidence that I didn’t at the beginning of my internship. I had a new confidence in journalism and my ability to make a career of it. I was hesitant to declare journalism as a major because of the way people talk about the future of newspapers and the ethics of journalism. But, working at a news office, seeing other journalists thriving and working hard has shown me that there will always be a need and a place for good journalists, even in a small town.