This morning, I walked down the sidewalk of my favorite street in America.
Home. Main Street, Cleveland, Oklahoma, USA.
I strolled down the sidewalk painted with tiger paws as I waved at friends through storefront windows. South Hill was in the distance — the cross lit up and the giant Stars and Stripes waving in the wind.
Nothing new about that scenery since I live here, except I was walking to work at the Cleveland American.
Some things just make sense, right?
And small-town journalism always makes sense to me.
For at least the last 10 years or so, I have freelanced for my small-town weekly paper in addition to my job in the city. The newspaper’s publisher has tried for several years now to lure me away from the Tulsa World and Channel 6 to give the American a boost full-time.
I always put it off because the timing wasn’t quite right.
Good thing timing always comes back around.
When you have the choice to do anything or go anywhere you want, but you choose comfort and familiarity — that’s not a lack of courage. It’s an abundance of love.
I may be going from 400,000 people reading my words to 4,000, but that doesn’t matter a lick to me. I just want to do something that matters. I don’t say that to take away from any of the other opportunities I have been given over my career, because I truly have had the greatest platforms for amazing companies, and people I love and respect still work at those beacons of journalism.
But sometimes, something is so obvious to your own soul that you have to say a prayer and shout YES.
Working for a wonderful family I consider friends and passing lifelong acquaintances on the sidewalk every day is a huge positive. And for the first time in 20 years, I have weekends off, no swing shifts, and I won’t have to work around the clock during severe weather or while everyone else is enjoying holidays with their families. I will have a 9-5 life and get to spend more time with those I love. I now will be able to put in more time with the nonprofit I founded, blogging and making jewelry. I will get to experience life like folks with “normal” jobs get to do.
Most of all, I get to write stories I want to write, about the people and places that matter the most to me.
No morning pitch meetings in an attempt to be the one small-town story that gets reported in the evening news. No key demographics. No “hot zip codes.” No “Internet gold.” No sweeps. No story limits. No millions of other things on a checklist a day that take away from storytelling, which is what I love to do most.
Now it is just stories – long and short and happy and sad and silly and important. Community journalism is the only place you consistently can get that kind of coverage of a small town.
While they have their own strengths, TV newscasts are only 17 minutes, and big papers can’t cover every town in all 77 counties. It’s impossible.
Community papers are the backbone of the news pyramid. They are the ones documenting history in towns that don’t have stories sexy enough to draw attention from the bigger outfits. But those stories mean everything to the people who reside there and in towns like them.
I’ve freelanced for the American for a decade, stepping in to help when my schedule would allow. I’ve also done so when my schedule didn’t allow because I believed in the product and wanted to lend a hand. But now, it is my goal, as the new associate editor, to take a load off the publisher so he can focus on other areas of running the publication. As the publisher, he has many duties that go unnoticed if you aren’t in the business.
Sheila, Natasja and Caleb will continue offering instrumental support in the roles they have perfected over time. The place wouldn’t run without them. And I will do what I can to help pack the paper with more content every week.
In return, I hope you will see the added news and appreciate the effort by all of us. You can do that by renewing your subscription or picking up a copy at the store on a regular basis, or most of all, advertising your services. All those things ensure that the newspaper — the oldest business in Cleveland — will continue recording history and life as it unfolds in Pawnee County. While other outlets are important supplements that help us all be informed of the state, nation and world, no other entity except the Cleveland American will tell you about matters important to Cleveland, Oklahoma, just like a newspaper has been doing here since 1894.
Like when I worked in the city, I’ll still be writing about the kind of news that makes us cringe when we have to hear it (or when we have to report it). I’ll also keep records at city council meetings and school board meetings, watching your tax dollars at work. But I’ll be helping to make sure you know about the chili supper and the score to the big game. I’ll make sure your kid gets in the paper for making the honor roll and your grandma is mentioned for her 100th birthday. I’ll write features about the lives of people who make up our river valley – the farmers, ranchers, police officers, oil patch hands, nurses, business owners, clerks, mechanics, waitresses, moms, dads, retirees and veterans.
That means so much to me because those people comprise a town full of friends and neighbors I’ve known my entire life.
Those people are home. Those stories are home. And that feels really good.
And believe it or not, after five years in the TV world, it feels really good to have my shellac manicure stained with newspaper ink again, too.
While some might think a cityscape view is pretty unbeatable, I beg to differ. It’s beautiful in its own way, yes. But through my eyes, you can’t beat a small-town newspaper under your arm, walking down tiger paw sidewalks with a view of the cross and flag atop South Hill in Cleveland, America.
Because, like Thoreau, I wish to live deliberately.