It’s an interesting thing, being a reporter in a community you’ve never set foot in before, trying to navigate complex issues and street names and organizations and networks of people you’re not yet familiar with, trying to appear knowledgeable about topics and places you finished researching only minutes ago, asking community members to tell you — a perfect stranger — their stories, and implicitly asking them to trust you to do those stories justice.
I came to Montana for the first time 10 weeks ago, when I began my summer reporting internship at the Flathead Beacon via a partnership that the Beacon has with my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
Friends from home and school were confused as to why I had chosen to work in Montana. In the media, and in many people’s minds, the United States consists of two coasts and three places: California, New York, and Washington, D.C. In between those places, so the story goes, there’s nothing — just farmland and cows and people driving trucks.
After having filled two entire notebooks with quotations from Montanans of all walks of life — volunteers raising money and awareness for a wide variety of causes, entrepreneurs launching all kinds of businesses, outdoorsmen and women, musicians and filmmakers, gardeners and artists, equestrians, librarians, actors and actresses, teachers and students, activists, philanthropists — I can confidently say that there is quite a lot going on in Montana. This is a vivacious, vigorous place. But you didn’t need me to tell you that.
I had the privilege of seeing that vivaciousness, that vigorousness, on a daily basis. My job was, quite literally, to go up to people and ask them about things about which they are passionate, ask them about projects to which they’ve dedicated their entire lives, ask them about their opinions and emotions and thoughts. And then I had the privilege of documenting them.
What has been so special about being a reporter here is that it has allowed me to see parts of Montana that I never would have been able to otherwise, and more importantly, to meet people that I never would have otherwise encountered — especially as a newcomer to the community.
The Montanans I interviewed did much more than just answer my questions. They welcomed me into their homes, their gardens, and their businesses, and invited me to their movie sets, their workshops, and their performances. We’ve had dinner and drinks together and talked about topics ranging far beyond the scope of whatever article I was writing.
It’s because I was a reporter that I felt — and feel — a sense of belonging here. And it’s because I was a reporter that I am aware, now more than ever, of the abundance of stories that surrounds all of us, all the time, wherever we are. There are enough stories in one community — in just one portion of one community — to fill infinite newspapers.
This is one reason why local newspapers, and newspapers in general, are so important. Because they allow us to share in the stories of those around us while also sharing our own. They allow us to, every day or every week, put forth a paper product that contains within it a record of what’s happening in our lives, a record of what’s happening in our community, something tangible that says, “This is who we are and this is what’s going on and this is what we think about it.”
Thank you for allowing me, over these past 10 weeks, to be a part of that “we.”
Emily Hoeven, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, interned for the Flathead Beacon this summer. She is now teaching English in France.
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