From my desk

Bob Williams


December is always a month of reflection on the prior year and a 31-day countdown to the future.

Last January 1, I was happily unemployed, taking a break from journalism and thinking about a change of career for my future. It was going to take a few minor miracles to get me back behind the camera and keyboard.

Lo, it somehow came to pass, thanks to LinkedIn and in large part, the particular management style of publishers Chad and Dani Koenen here at the Forum. Equally important was the office dynamic that existed between then-cartoonist and page designer Chris Hahn and graphic artist (and everything else) Carly Johnson. She made sure to let me know I would not be changing that dynamic. We were going to get the work done well and have fun doing it, or else!

The first few days I was quiet. Jumping into creating nearly all the content for a newspaper is rather daunting early on, but the positive support system at the office made doing so more fun than I had anticipated.

We got through that first issue in April and the outline of that success was the blueprint for going forward. It seemed like this was going to work out.

If I learned anything from covering sports for 12 years, it was the people involved were the story. The result of a game was just the construct used to depict what those people did, and upon completion, their input was mandatory to shape the narrative well.

No longer having that construct to lean on meant my stories, going forward, were going to be all about people. 

Since April, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many groups and individuals in the area who were willing to share their stories, and more importantly, willing to trust me to tell them.

The best part of my job is shutting up and allowing people to talk. It takes years of listening to recorded interviews to learn that important lesson. 

In those private moments, the people I interview create the real narrative and there are some chats that leave lasting impressions. 

Turns out, those are the aforementioned miracles.

You think you have problems? Feeling a bit demotivated? Try listening to a young mother describe her daily battle with cancer and her unstoppable desire to be there for her kids and husband by resisting succumbing to the disease. You cannot help but be moved.

Too much social media will tell you the world’s a terrible place and there’s no longer any good in it.  Then you get a phone call from a church group who all banded together to buy one of their friends a car she needed desperately. You get to be there in that moment of positivity and giving, see the immense effect on the person in need and the happiness on the faces of those who gave. 

That’s right up there with a kid sinking a winning basket in a section final, except the roar of the crowd is a bursting of inner feelings I somehow get paid to experience.

I’ve gained a newfound respect for veterans and those who spend their lives making sure they are honored for their sacrifices.

I am continually impressed with people who put their financial lives on the line to bring new business to small towns and reap the benefits of doing that job well, along with the business mainstays who have been in Vergas and Frazee for years continuing to contribute immensely to both localities.

That being said, it’s not all fuzzy feelings and good times.

Small town government and school operations are not painless tasks and they are very easy to criticize, but there are far less people trying to do the work compared to those who just want to bitch about it. Being the lone local voice to depict all of this good and bad has its own pitfalls.

I was recently told to my face that my coverage of a recent school board meeting was making the school and the town look bad.

I immediately laughed. The humor comes from experience and having been told similar things before. Of all the people to blame, this guy picked the one impartial guy in the room. I was simply describing what had occurred.

The reality of any situation like that is we need to stop looking for someone to blame and start being part of the solution. If you can’t do that then you need to just keep your trap shut.

For every challenging topic or exchange I have to cover there are tens, if not hundreds, more positive stories that are being shared and that effort has also been noticed.

So much so that former Forum writer Lori Thorp came to the office and wanted to be a part of what we are doing here. You’ll find her first feature in this issue and my thanks to Lori for being willing to contribute and wanting to be involved in helping shape positive stories in our towns.

Thank you to everyone for their comments and feedback over the past nine months. I really appreciate the people in Vergas and Frazee who have shared with me the importance of having an independent newspaper and it’s great to be a part of keeping that alive. 

We can only do that with the support of the communities we serve.