Driving around Meridian, Lauderdale County and surrounding communities in our coverage area, I can't help but feel a sense of appreciation whenever I see a newspaper box with The Meridian Star logo on the side of it.
My first thought is always a silent "Thank you" to the reader. The second thing that usually crosses my mind is, "What is there in this neighborhood that we have not written about?"
Back in the days when I was a cub reporter, a wise editor once told me that everyone has a story. It's true.
My favorite assignments as a reporter came on those rare slow news days when that same editor would tell me to "Get out of the office and go find me a story."
I loved driving around and stopping at random to speak to people who wouldn't otherwise come in contact with a reporter. And I always found a story.
One man I ran into while working for a newspaper in Northwest Florida turned out to be among a dwindling number of small, independent commercial fishermen plying the Gulf of Mexico who were struggling to compete against against Asian markets pumping cheap fish into U.S. markets. It is a story that is still relevant today.
Another man I met had given up his car dealership after a nasty divorce and moved to a remote cabin with no electricity or running water. That meeting led to a story about people who traded lucrative careers for the simplicity of rustic, rural life.
A drive through dusty backroads yielded yet another story about an underground subculture of cockfighting, in which Northwest Florida residents who raised fighting roosters would practice the illegal sport in Alabama where the penalties were less severe if caught.
The funny thing is that none of the people I interviewed for those stories realized they had a story to tell. Invariably, when asked, they would say that nothing in their lives was worth writing about. But that wasn't true.
I'm sure if I jumped in my car and drove up to Collinsville or over to York, Ala., and asked a random stranger to tell me something interesting, I would get the same response.
I'm just as sure that a casual chat would reveal an interesting tidbit that is fodder for a story.
As a newspaper, our main focus will always be reporting on the hard news of the day — wrecks and robberies, government and education. Given our small staff, it is difficult for us to cover little else. But that doesn't mean there aren't issues and stories outside our normal periphery begging to be written about. They are there.
So ask yourself, "What is interesting in my neighborhood or community?"
Let me know what you come up with.
Michael Stewart is the
executive editor of The Meridian Star. You can
reach him by e-mail at