That’s a journalism school line that comes off as counter intuitive until you’ve had a chance to do so.
I left my hometown paper, where I could spell our German names?the Reichenbergers the Hommertzheims?by heart.
If a source bailed on me, a cousin’s cousin’s brother-in-law could step up.
But in Newton, I’ve jumped into a whole new lake.
Wendy, our features reporter and Bruce, the marketing dude, have been working and reporting in Newton since the ’90s. They know everyone. The Youngs, the paper’s publishers, have familiarity from Lindsey’s time attending Bethel.
But for me, I make a phone call and get greeted at times with ?Who?? or ?Wait, Chris??
And, yes, to those wondering, I am second cousins with Chris Strunk, a previous managing editor in Newton. Chris has done our last name proud from the amount of times I’ve been asked about him.
My newness provides plenty of faux pas. Don’t slip up and call Newton ?Newton Newton? when in North Newton. Don’t apologize for being late because of a train, because real Newton residents know to leave early, just in case.
But it can be a good thing.
With journalists, myself included, there’s a temptation to be the smartest guy in the room. We get paid to gather information. The profession draws those who like to know everything.
That can be a detriment when you write. You know a name, so you don’t double check the spelling.
You think you understand a situation, so you don’t ask for an explination.
You see the forest but not the trees.
That’s why you’re told to report stupid. It forces you to give up your assumptions and ego and approach stories as a blank slate.
So I’ve been blank slate-ing it up here in Newton, and as someone coming into the community, I’ve been impressed.
In my reporting, I got to take in the music scene in town, listening to 80 Proof Engine Saturday night. I got a chance to explore and kayak the Sand Creek with my girlfriend.
I’ve been walking downtown, talking to folks, getting coffee. People talk about empty buildings on Main Street in Newton, but compared to so many towns, business is bustling. Back Alley Pizza finally had their ribbon cutting; I got to cover that. Just having a foot traffic friendly downtown is something.
Of course, the town has its edges.
I need you all to buy a lot of subscriptions to help me pay my first real utility bill.
Crime is a growing concern.
We saw both sides of crazy come out with the Taco Bell label incident.
There are plenty of those in need of help in the community.
But in those cases of need, I’ve had the opportunity to see people step up.
I just look at the story about North Newton Officer Bethards helping a homeless veteran along the way and how his charity returned to him.
Or I think about a political gathering I covered. As I left, I cynically noted the politicians bragging on Kansas, while 30 feet away a person sat homeless in Athletic Park.
I chatted with the woman for a while and went home to get her something. When I returned, she had people from the rally helping her and seeing if one of them had a rental where she could stay. It?s a wonderful and rare thing to have your cynicism shattered.
There’s no better way to learn about a town than running a community newspaper and having to read each story that’s written. Eventually, I?ll be embedded in the community. I’ll have my sources. I’ll have my hard-to-spell last names memorized.
But until then, I’ll just enjoy becoming part of a community that has only made me more grateful since moving here.
You all have been gracious and accepting with me as I’m learning the town. I hope you’ll continue to do so. I’m a stranger, and a lot of you have gone out of your way to take me in?even with my faux pas. And I thank you.