I’m a rural journalist. Meaning I’ve spent my professional career to date as a journalist at local papers that serve communities of less than 20,000 people, often called “hyperlocal” news reporting.


In an odd sort of way, I’ve had a backwards career. I started out writing for publication while I was living in Eastern Europe in an exciting time. I’d reached a point where I was getting stories such as interviewing the wife of a murdered dissident in Minsk, and covering the Serbian election that led to the downfall of the Milosevic regime.


Which I either gave away to “journals of much passion and small circulation” in Prince Kropotkin’s fortunate phrase, or sold for beer money.


Eventually I realized this was dumb and went back to my alma mater Oklahoma University, to get some formal training and turn pro.


The next step was to get experience at a daily and learn the essential but unglamorous skills of a reporter. I am now starting out at my third newspaper.


The editor of a rural newspaper in Oklahoma once told me his paper was a “farm team.” That is, they took new graduates from Oklahoma University and seasoned them before they moved to bigger communities and newspapers with larger circulations.


Of course, not all do. Journalism is a poverty trade and a great many move on to some other profession that requires researching and writing skills.


But it’s also a very pleasant way to make a living if you have a good paper. Check out small-town papers and you’ll find a lot of local journalists are women with families. They might be supplementing the family income or providing the family’s health insurance if their husband is a self-employed contractor, farmer or tradesman.


But for now, I have no plans to move up to the big city newspapers. The fact is, I like rural journalism for several reasons, not least being that I get to live in good places to raise my children.


Another is, I find covering local government very interesting precisely because of my experience living in post-communist Eastern Europe.


The communist countries had nothing like local government, and by the time I returned to America in 2004, they were only beginning to institute locally elected city councils and county commissions.


In spite of growing centralization, much of America is still governed locally by people tied closely to their communities. It’s here you get to see how the gears of civilization work: how roads are built and maintained, how drinkable water comes in, garbage and sewage go out, and how cops and firemen are equipped and paid.


When you cover local government west of the Mississippi you find there are basically two infrastructure stories.


One is that in the rural areas of the Midwest and West, the tax base is too thin to support 21st century infrastructure.


It costs just as much to build and maintain a road to a town of 300 people as it does to a city of 30,000. The traffic affects maintenance costs, but in the north central part of the U.S. an awful lot of road wear is about winter as much as traffic.


The other is that on the edge of the western expansion in the 19th century a lot of towns sprang up overnight – literally. One day there was nothing, the next day there was a town. Sometimes the towns grew into cities, but sometimes not. They either maintained roughly the same population or grew only slightly over the next century.


The consequence of this is, for a great many rural communities the infrastructure is decaying at the same rate all over town. Especially the hideously expensive underground infrastructure: water and sewer mains.


Maintaining those roads and rebuilding that infrastructure requires supplementary state and federal funds.


This is why blue state people sneer at red state people.


“Oh you don’t like the federal government but you sure like those federal funds!”


The red state people can of course reply, “Oh you don’t like ‘flyover country’ but you sure like our wheat, beef and vacationing in our parks!”


You see? “Hyperlocal” isn’t just local, it impacts national issues as well.


And consider, if it weren’t for all of us out here in the boonies there would be no one speaking for your community at all.

I’m a rural journalist. Meaning I’ve spent my professional career to date as a journalist at local papers that serve communities of less than 20,000 people, often called “hyperlocal” news reporting.

In an odd sort of way, I’ve had a backwards career. I started out writing for publication while I was living in Eastern Europe in an exciting time. I’d reached a point where I was getting stories such as interviewing the wife of a murdered dissident in Minsk, and covering the Serbian election that led to the downfall of the Milosevic regime.

Which I either gave away to “journals of much passion and small circulation” in Prince Kropotkin’s fortunate phrase, or sold for beer money.

Eventually I realized this was dumb and went back to my alma mater Oklahoma University, to get some formal training and turn pro.

The next step was to get experience at a daily and learn the essential but unglamorous skills of a reporter. I am now starting out at my third newspaper.

The editor of a rural newspaper in Oklahoma once told me his paper was a “farm team.” That is, they took new graduates from Oklahoma University and seasoned them before they moved to bigger communities and newspapers with larger circulations.

Of course, not all do. Journalism is a poverty trade and a great many move on to some other profession that requires researching and writing skills.

But it’s also a very pleasant way to make a living if you have a good paper. Check out small-town papers and you’ll find a lot of local journalists are women with families. They might be supplementing the family income or providing the family’s health insurance if their husband is a self-employed contractor, farmer or tradesman.

But for now, I have no plans to move up to the big city newspapers. The fact is, I like rural journalism for several reasons, not least being that I get to live in good places to raise my children.

Another is, I find covering local government very interesting precisely because of my experience living in post-communist Eastern Europe.

The communist countries had nothing like local government, and by the time I returned to America in 2004, they were only beginning to institute locally elected city councils and county commissions.

In spite of growing centralization, much of America is still governed locally by people tied closely to their communities. It’s here you get to see how the gears of civilization work: how roads are built and maintained, how drinkable water comes in, garbage and sewage go out, and how cops and firemen are equipped and paid.

When you cover local government west of the Mississippi you find there are basically two infrastructure stories.

One is that in the rural areas of the Midwest and West, the tax base is too thin to support 21st century infrastructure.

It costs just as much to build and maintain a road to a town of 300 people as it does to a city of 30,000. The traffic affects maintenance costs, but in the north central part of the U.S. an awful lot of road wear is about winter as much as traffic.

The other is that on the edge of the western expansion in the 19th century a lot of towns sprang up overnight – literally. One day there was nothing, the next day there was a town. Sometimes the towns grew into cities, but sometimes not. They either maintained roughly the same population or grew only slightly over the next century.

The consequence of this is, for a great many rural communities the infrastructure is decaying at the same rate all over town. Especially the hideously expensive underground infrastructure: water and sewer mains.

Maintaining those roads and rebuilding that infrastructure requires supplementary state and federal funds.

This is why blue state people sneer at red state people.

“Oh you don’t like the federal government but you sure like those federal funds!”

The red state people can of course reply, “Oh you don’t like ‘flyover country’ but you sure like our wheat, beef and vacationing in our parks!”

You see? “Hyperlocal” isn’t just local, it impacts national issues as well.

And consider, if it weren’t for all of us out here in the boonies there would be no one speaking for your community at all.