Life as a not-so-former daily newspaper reporter


This house is safe and warm / But I was made to chase the storm / Taking the whole world on with big ol’ empty arms – John Mayer

I still remember him.

He seemed to embody the archetypal “grizzled veteran” journalist. I imagined him as the kind who cut his teeth back when you actually had to work your way up to that reporter’s desk. I wonder what he thought of me, an eager high school student shadowing him and other newsroom staff for a week.

I don’t remember my exact question, but it was close to this: Why do you do what you do?

I sat there, pen poised over my brand, spankin’ new reporter notepad, and waited.

Once ink gets into your veins, he said, you’re hooked.

Who says newspapers are dead?

I’ve thought of him often over the past month as I’ve slid back into my first daily newspaper gig in years.

I thought I understood him back then. I didn’t. Not until I walked through the doors of the small daily of Livingston, Mont., and smelled that lingering, sharp scent of newsprint I will always associate with the massive presses in the back room.

In some ways, it was strange. In others, it wasn’t.

My path meandered over the years since I packed up my reporter’s tools of the trade and left the daily newsroom in New Hampshire — higher education communications and magazine writing in Pennsylvania, sheep farming in Ohio and international journalism in East Africa.

But when I walked in that Montana newsroom door, it was like I never left daily journalism.

A lot has changed over the years. I value different things. I left to take a step or two away from the grind and consider how to balance life and work — something I didn’t do well when I first started. I still loved the practice of daily journalism, but the rest of it — long hours, low pay, long hours, low pay — had taken a toll. It’s a common refrain from former daily reporters.

After some time, I realized this: I will always love the act of newsgathering and I will always see the need for it, no matter where I am in life.

There is something about working for a small-town newspaper. Something about working in a community where you can’t help but see the people you talk to and cover out and about every day. Something about the necessity of it.

Never saw it coming

I’ve listened to John Mayer’s newest album, “Paradise Valley,” a lot since it was released in August. The album is named after the valley you can just see through the break in the mountains pictured above.

The past few years have been filled with unforeseen stops, turns, obstacles and opportunities. I never thought I’d return to the family sheep farm. As much as I wanted to move there, I never thought I’d develop such a love for Africa.

Mayer’s lyrics about “taking the whole world on with big ol’ empty arms” resonate. I feel like a perpetual rolling stone.

I can’t say I’ve gotten used to the twists and turns, but I’ve learned to expect them. I never saw this one coming though.

I don’t pretend to understand why my path brought me back out West during this transition. I don’t regret it — because there’s something else about small towns I think I need to savor during my time here: rootedness.

As much as my heart is still in Africa for now, I believe someday this rolling stone will come to a stop — maybe it’ll be in a place like small-town Montana.


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