By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Yes We Can
Yesterday was a big day for the Gazette, and for a vision of mine. I launched an idea, hoping for the best, and a year later it’s turned out well. Better than I thought, really.
There’s a lot of hesitancy in starting a new business, especially in the environment that has been this last year. Before I was furloughed from my former employer, people liked my work, and once I decided it was time to go out on my own, there was concern if my voice as a standalone entity would be enough. Of course I wondered if the background of my old employer was the element that propped me up enough for people to have interest in my words.
Turns out, people have liked what I’ve had to say.
Deanna’s article hinted at some of that background. Furloughs are hard because you’re in this weird, transitory “Will I or won’t I” state about returning to work. There’s simply no guarantee. But story requests never stopped just because my employment did.
For the longest time, I was giving “We’ll see,” or “I can’t” answers when people would ask me to cover events. The moment that prompted my “Why can’t I” change was being stopped during a grocery store trip, and asked if I could cover some local store that needed support.
I had been writing about local businesses during the early days of the pandemic. A whole series of stories sharing that, while there was a shelter in place in effect, these places were still offering service. News writing is hard fact: Dates, times, quotes, events. I’ve said in the past you have to write the events first, then feel later. A lot of these businesses and organizations have been or become friends, and I realized there was so much work left to be done.
John and I began work on the Gazette as early as May of last year.
The Gazette soft-launched on August 21, with the “grand opening” in September 7. We used those initial first weeks listening to our test audience, seeing what people wanted to read about and fine-tuning the site before announcing “We’re here” in a larger format.
I learned a lot in the newspaper environment. What works, and what doesn’t. I spent a lot of time studying modern and old publications to see what people want to see now, and what people missed from “the old days.” Growing up here, I’ve held a very unique perspective of what this town meant to me, and tried to use that enthusiasm to inspire others. It personally delights me reminding people we had a video game company here, or how strong our retail sector used to be, or how good the sauce was at Humbert’s Hickory House. I’ve hoped some of this will incentivize the start of a new generation of experiences.
The online experience has been an interesting one. Social media sites often fall apart in the comments section, and I wanted to cultivate somethings better. “Community” isn’t a marketing buzzword to me. It’s important to make sure everyone not only feels welcome, but is welcome. Seeing people of different backgrounds and beliefs actually having civil conversations with each other has been a validating moment.
With a small town, my focus remain on the interesting aspects of where we live and the people out there doing something positive. Dad taught me to serve the greater good. Fred Rogers taught me to look for the helpers. Experience taught me to have a little fun with what I’m doing.
Has it always been fun? Sharing news is reality. I didn’t sleep the week of February’s blizzard. I’ve sighed sadly when I’ve shared the loss of friends and leaders. I’ve been frustrated in sharing public health updates. The concussion I received in May after an accident took a while for me to acclimate back into my regular writing routine.
But of course there’s fun. I’ve enjoyed breaking news or having other news sites cite me as a source. I’ve enjoyed interviewing people and telling their stories. I’ve enjoyed the “behind the scenes” aspects of history events, or how a process works, or having one story really take off. The closing of VF Factory Outlet still remains one of the site’s most popular stories, though I couldn’t really tell you why.
But I’ve appreciated people trusting me to tell their stories. The trust in me to be a part of the process. And when I decided to go independent, people allowed me to continue where I had paused last spring. I even maintain a genuinely pleasant relationship with my former publication. They taught me a lot. It’s hard to not be grateful.
To the freelance writers who have graciously donated their time so this work is not just a singular voice, thank you.
The the donors who have provided funding so the Gazette can continue to expand, thank you.
To the advertisers who believe in us to act as a good representative for their personal work, thank you.
To the community who has trusted me to tell the stories of Navarro County, thank you.
To the readers who have been a supportive part of this first year, thank you.
To my family who have allowed me the freedom to work some admittedly bizarre hours, thank you.
To John Kaiser, who has been a fantastic business partner and friend, and indulges my “big idea” whims, thank you.
We still have one other thing planned as part of our first year celebration. We’ll be announcing that soon.
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