Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Small-town editor urges students: consider rural journalism

Sara Baranowski
When Sara Baranowski was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, she had a specific career in mind: she wanted to be a political reporter at a large daily newspaper. So how did she end up as the award-winning editor of a twice-weekly paper in a town of 5,000, and why is she happy with that?

"I was hired by a small daily newspaper, and learned fairly quickly that corporate ownership wasn’t for me. I was a cog in a big machine whose values didn’t align with my own. What was important to the organization seemed trivial to me," Baranowski writes for the Poynter Institute. "When a job opened at the twice-weekly Iowa Falls Times Citizen in a small town down the highway, I was intrigued. The company was family-owned and, in addition to owning two local newspapers, it also operated a small radio station. In my new role I’d have two jobs: radio news director and newspaper reporter. It was on-the-job training in a skill that interested me. And I’d have a back-up plan. If The New York Times thing didn’t pan out, I’d have NPR to fall back on."

Baranowski planned to work for the Times Citizen for only a year or two, but 13 years later, she's still there and loves her job. She realized that the goals she set for herself in college had been influenced by professors who never encouraged students to pursue rural journalism, and she had never been exposed to the high-quality work being done by many rural journalists, she writes.

Her work at the Times Citizen prompted her to redefine what success meant. "Whereas before I thought of success as a big job at a big newspaper in a big city, now it’s something different: an important job at a small town’s only newspaper in a community that’s come to mean a lot to me," Baranowski writes.

She encourages journalism students not to let others define success for them, and to consider what would make them feel fulfilled. For Baranowski, it's "making a difference in a community through my work . . . by providing information and telling people’s stories, ultimately making it a better place for everyone — and having control over what I do and how I do it."

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