It's perhaps a common idea among journalists that they, so the thought goes, are unlike those they interview, and are indeed outside the camp of what we consider "public officials." Often there's the fly-on-the-wall mentality. I just report it, people. I'm detached, I'm neutral. I'm uninvolved.
This thought is perhaps an easier one to entertain, you might think, in a place like Douglas, Wyoming (pop. 5,800). But, while I'd like for it to be true personally, I'm learning that a plight of the smalltown city reporter is perhaps one of increased public spotlight rather than one of nimble streamline.
And don't get me wrong, I'm not a flipping icon in this cowboy mecca. By no means. But I find myself being further pressed for my opinions and input from people on city happenings of late, as well as becoming further known as one of the reporter corps soldiers.
Thus have been my experiences previously and lately cementing the matter:
-People passing me in the grocery store and recognizing me as "the guy who wrote the article about us." i smiled and waved.
-A kid stopping his bike and indicating "hey, that's the newspaper guy" to his father as we passed on the street. i smiled and waved.
-Having the power to detain an incredibly busy US Senate member (Barrasso, R-WY) after a speech for an exclusive brief interview for my 4,500 circulation weekly. i said "um" too much and smiled.
-Individuals commenting on my columns in the paper when we randomly meet in public ("oh yeah, you're the one who doesn't wear jeans...")
-A local school board candidate coming in to simply talk about the upcoming school board election and the so-called wrongs of the current board. i nodded, said "mhh-huh" often and blinked repeatedly.
-And most recently, the notion was rammed home when I was accused of "slanting" an article written about a local city council member (who has historically been a rogue in the public eye), and being accused of having "an agenda." I almost laughed out loud.
-And then being asked my frank opinion by high ranking city staff about the previously mentioned city council member and his actions (seems i drew the short straw for the city council beat).
So it's a curious place to be in, this fish-bowl community where the odds have you being related by blood or bride to at least one other family in the area. Or else you're just a crash-landed coal miner.
I often find myself amazed at the sheer devotion the locals have to their community, while also being mildly freaked out by the regular lack of a life-giving external perspective coming from outside the sacred county borders.
What you see is what you get, oftentimes. Which is a provocative, scary package.
And it seems I now have to watch my P's and Q's, at least among certain peeps at certain times.
That's just kind of a strange realization.
But, with that said, come and see me for all the town gossip. I've got the dirt on everybody...