I’ve been a bit preoccupied lately with sticking to my themes, but I’ve forgotten to do some other writing also. It’s been my intention to tell my story in parts or chapters. I’ve done some of that – talking about my volunteering past, being short, etc. I haven’t fully disclosed what it’s like being the lone reporter for a small weekly newspaper.
I’ve talked about my job a little bit but I haven’t fully explained the situation. I moved to Needles, Calif., in Nov. 2009 for the job – working as the sole reporter for a weekly newspaper. I found it as a listing on journalismjobs.com. I had been working for a small five-daily newspaper in Salida, Colo., but as fate would have it, I found myself needing a new job. I feel things didn’t work out as I would have preferred but in the end I was the winner because I’d wanted out for a long time, I just never got the guts to move on it. So fate, or God as I tend to think was the case, intervened.
There was a lot going on at that time. I was seeing a guy (whom I’ve mentioned before) at the time. In fact, I had already planned to visit him for a week when I phone interviewed for the job. I arranged with the editor and this guy for he and I to come to Needles so I can meet Robin and get the layout of the town. I had applied for the job not fully understanding what I would be getting into or just what kind of climate I would be living in – I did to a point but not completely. It’s interesting to me how on paper 120 degrees sounds hot and one can realize it is, but it’s not the same as actually feeling 120 degrees. Stick your face in the oven at that temp some time and you may get a notion.
I remember talking to my dad and telling him I had applied for this job. He had spent time out in Indio, Calif., so he knew just how hot it can get. I’ve definitely heard some horror stories including needing to crack the windows of the car so they don’t break, and my dad actually got third degree burns on his hand after touching the steering wheel of his car one summer. I do recall having to put towels on my steering wheel and the shifter because even with the shades up and a cover for the steering wheel, they would just get way too hot to the touch.
At the time, the other things I really hadn’t accounted for was just how much responsibility there would be in being the only reporter for the paper. When I was hired, my editor was editing two small newspapers so he couldn’t really help me with any reporting duties. That’s changed in recent months but in nearly four years, it was solely up to me to ensure the paper was filled. It still is my responsibility to make sure there’s enough material, but my editor can help more now.
My reporter responsibilities include covering city council and other city related topics, the hospital (used to be the board also but they’re defunct now), schools, school functions, the school board and school sports, community events, feature stories and whatever else comes walking in the door. I don’t cover the county too much because Needles is too far away from the hub to make it that easy. San Bernardino is about a three-hour drive, one way, so there’s no heading over to those meetings. We typically print the press releases we receive.
There’s also the photography side of it. We typically call it “art” – well it is art but most people call it photos or pictures. Photos are an important part of design, telling the stories, etc. Art helps make the newspaper much more interesting and easier to read. So the expectation is to get photos to go with whatever stories I’m going to writing about. This means I never go anywhere without pen and pad and of course, my camera. The kids at the schools are hilarious because they’re always wanting to pose or begging for their photo to be taken now. I also now find that I can’t go too many places without being “seen.”
This brings me to the part that is difficult about my job. I love what I do. It’s been an adventure coming here and I could never regret it. I’ve met amazing people, learned a lot about this lovely small community and have learned a lot about myself and done a lot of growing up in the process. How can I regret that? It is trying on my social life though. As the sole reporter, I have to keep people at bay. I can’t afford to be too friendly with folks because I have to be able to maintain my objective perspective on things and establishing friendships with sources is a bad idea. There is also the fact that I can’t afford for rumors to be going around about me haha. Needles is a small town and so the gossip chain has a tendency to be faster than the Internet. It’s true. I’ve seen it happen.
I know a good chunk of people in this town by now and many I work with in some fashion. This leads to not having many friends, at least here in Needles, and it certainly means no dating. Though part of that is my choice because I’m tired of heartaches, I now have trust issues (namely with myself to be quite honest) and of course, the selection in a small town is limited. There’s just not many single guys whom I’d have much in common with, or there’s too much of an age gap, or they have legal issues (that I don’t want to deal with) or whatever. There may be someone but it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack and dating is difficult enough as it is without having do that kind of search to begin with.
The single part I suppose isn’t always so bad but not having much of a social life can be trying. The kicker is I don’t have much way to get out to the desert to enjoy during the cooler temperatures because my car and I have one thing in common – low ground clearance. It’s amazing how you really do need to have a vehicle that has more ground clearance out in the desert. I don’t have any family nearby either so I only really have my car to rely on out here. She’s absolutely my best friend and yes I named her. Don’t judge me. She’s “Ruby” because of her cranberry red color. She’s spunky like me and is happy to take me to Vegas when I need an escape.
The desert isolates me because I’m away from family and friends, but the job makes it hard to make up for that. It’s so odd and in some ways uncomfortable saying that because I do love this job and I love being in Needles. There’s just a price to pay for independence.
I know what you mean. After 14 months in an identical role, I had to stop. It got lonely and I felt I didn’t fit in. The gossip chain can be extremely useful though.
If I didn’t love the job or the town, I probably would have left a long time ago too but it’s such a juxtaposition. I think I probably will be getting out of here soon but will have to see what happens. 🙂
I’m surprised you do love the town, considering you’re the journalist. You see the worst things about the place.
Actually, this will really surprise you – I often get to see the best side of it too. Yes I see all the yucky politics but there’s lots of good that happens here too. I know a lot of good people. Even the ones who drive me nuts are actually usually good peeps. They’re a passionate group here haha. 🙂
Do you have the stereotypes? Town drunk, football hero, boring politician, outrageous war veteran?
LOL well we do to a point. There’s probably a few town drunks (this is a low economy area and drugs are also a factor – though I’d say that’s true of any city). There is one outrageous war veteran and he had been on city council, but he’s also a well-meaning person. he’s just a bit outlandish at times. 🙂 Not sure we have a total football hero right this moment but football in this town is taken pretty seriously. There was a young man here who had been the QB (he’s since graduated and off to college) who did a really nice thing for a little boy (granted that happened during baseball season but he played all sports). It was a nice story that ended up in the paper. He’s a good kid.
good article Jen… I enjoyed the personal element in it…..I wonder if there’s a way you can blog more about ‘being the lone reporter’ in a tasteful way that doesn’t offend anyone in your town
Thank you! Well, there probably could be and I may just well do that – chronicle my adventures out here haha. It has been a trip that’s for sure! I’ll have to figure out how to do that perhaps 🙂