Blair Thomas
University of Kentucky
Kentucky Press Association Internship 2009
Kentucky New Era
Hopkinsville, KY

It was the middle of my eighth week in Hopkinsville when a driver at the Western Kentucky State Fair demolition derby laughed at one of my questions and in his unmistakable regional accent drawled out, “You’re not from around here are you?”

For maybe the hundredth time since I started my internship with the Kentucky New Era, I had to smile and shake my head. No, I’m not from around here, but that’s the thing about working for a local newspaper, I had to learn quick how to make myself from around here.

When I moved to Hopkinsville in May, I was only distantly familiar with the community of just over 32,000. My grandparents live in the neighboring Trigg County and I made a few visits to Hopkinsville when I was young. But in the 10 years since I’ve visited, the city has changed and my memories changed along with it.

Working on the cops beat, I gathered crime and accident reports from the police station and sheriff’s department each morning as well as fire reports from the fire department. Writing up briefs on the newsworthy reports, I gained a new perspective on the community and the types of people and activities that go on. I learned a lot about the problems of the community including drug trafficking and burglaries.

But there was more to learn about Hopkinsville than just crime. I covered the 70th reunion of a local elementary school, an annual fishing event for kids, the fair’s demolition derby, the local filming of a thriller movie, and even the case of a blood-stained mattress from a crime scene that local sanitation crews couldn’t dispose of. And to learn more about the community, I worked on a long-term project about local neighborhood associations which had me on the streets of the neighborhoods of Hopkinsville meeting residents and learning about ways they were working to improve their community.

I learned that covering a story meant more than asking a few questions and writing a story. It meant meeting people, getting to know them, letting them get to know me and telling their story. It also meant taking pictures – something I had little experience in doing before working at the New Era.

For those people who are worried about the future of the newspaper industry, I’d invite them to take a trip to the small communities dotted across the country. In places like Hopkinsville, the citizens still turn to the newspaper – the print version, not the one available on the Internet – to find out about injury accidents, local crime, lake levels, precipitation levels, local deaths and the schedule for the annual fair. People still call the newsroom with anniversary and birth announcements, excited to have family and friends featured in the pages of the New Era. Readers fill the reporters’ voicemails with complaints and story ideas and questions they want to know after reading an article.

Those who think newspapers are dying have never seen the old lady who lives across from my house in Trigg County wait by her orange New Era delivery box every day for the courier to arrive. And while I’ve had a few missteps fitting in with the people of Hopkinsville – you should never ask what the point of the demolition derby is – I’ve never worked in a community where the people cared about what was going on around them as much as I’ve seen here.

I hope I find people like that in the next step I take into the world of print journalism, because as long as there are people like that, there will always be a job for a reporter who is just as curious. And the next time I cover a demolition derby, I’ll know better than to ask what the point of the event is. Maybe next time I’ll even get to say, 'yes, I am from around here.'