Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Small-town Journalism

Minnesota is divided into two geographical locations that clearly establish the "us" and the "them" of the state. There are the "Twin Cities" or even "The Cities" (Minneapolis and St. Paul) and the rest of "us" - also known as "Greater" Minnesota. At least this is my understanding of the term - I am a foreigner (originally from Wisconsin) so I could be misunderstanding something - if that's the case, bear with me.

"Greater" is not intended to be an assessment of the quality of the state beyond the Twin Cities, but rather the quantity of land and people beyond them. It's a tidy, yet meaningless blanket term applied to everyone and everything not associated with these two densely populated areas of the state.

Since there is so much MORE of Minnesota than "The Cities" it's unsurprising that I ended up working for an agriculture newspaper in one of the many small communities that make up the "Greater" part of the state. The county where I live has a special claim to fame, because there are more cows than people here.

During my short but shining career as a small-town journalist, I have worked in three different communities for three different papers; I interned at another during college. I have learned a lot since I graduated in 2003.

When I was a journalism student, there were several miscommunications that took place during my Mass Communication education: 1) Most journalists work for large daily papers and cover fascinating topics; 2) Journalists get a decent salary -- eventually; 3) Weekly papers are inferior and for sissies.

What I have learned since then: 1) Most "average to good" journalists work for small daily papers, or even weekly newspapers. There is only ONE Star Tribune and ONE Pioneer Press and they are EVER downsizing their staffs! Most large markets are controlled by tyrannies - lorded over by one massive paper that is more than likely a merger of many papers over many years. This is just the way it is. Competition (at least in the traditional sense of newspaper vs. newspaper) is dead in most markets. 2) Journalists sacrifice more than they make in time, money and lifestyle. 3) Weekly newspapers rock. Thank you weekly newspapers - for keeping me employed even when we have had our differences.