Stories from the heart

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, October 25, 2014

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We are the questioners, the ones who scratch our heads and wonder why, or how, when or where.

We see someone digging a hole and wonder what he’s doing. Our job compels us to stop and ask. Maybe he’s starting a building, putting in a pipeline, looking for treasure or burying that body in his trunk.

Even if it’s “none of the above” – it’s a story.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Our job affords us the privilege of poking our noses into everyone’s business. It’s our job to wonder and speculate, read the blogs, listen to the rumors, then go out and dig for the truth, the back story, the rest of the story.

When rumors, gossip and opinions fly like a cloud of grackles, it’s our job to find out what really happened.

The community newspaper business is no place for those who can be bored. Those who look at a small town and think, “What could possibly be interesting here?” should find a different career.

We’re the ones who look at a small town and say, “How will I ever possibly live long enough to tell all the stories?”

Big-city news is exciting. It’s movers and shakers, the rich and powerful and the aching downtrodden, masses moving here and there, bright lights and dark alleys. Some news people can’t imagine working in a Chico or a Newark, a Decatur or a Bridgeport, a Rhome or a Boyd.

We can’t imagine working anywhere else.

The old guy who moves the chains for the football games is a story. So is the skinny kid at the end of the bench who never gets his uniform dirty, the doctor who stands on the sidelines in case he’s needed, the cheerleader’s grandmother, the quick-witted guy on the PA whose best lines occur when his finger is off the mic button.

The game is a story, but the best stories are in the stands.

We think the library volunteer who reads to the kids every Thursday is more interesting than the books. We’re more fascinated with the banker than the money. We want to listen to the veterans when they tell those stories that will never be inscribed on a monument.

Every business has a story, too. How did it start? What got you into doing this? Is it what you set out to do, or did you fall into it by chance? Is this your passion, or do you sell tires during the day and race pigeons on the weekends? Or motorcycles? Or airplanes?

That old house with the church sign above the door, the place with all the Halloween stuff out front, the one with the huge, well-tended garden – what are their stories? That old hotel that’s falling down – imagine the tales it could tell if walls could talk!

We get to go find the senior citizen who’s been here since it was a thriving hub. She’ll tell the stories, if you take time to listen.

We are the listeners.

Sometimes it feels like the community is on the couch, and we’re sitting there, pad in hand like Dr. Freud, tossing out questions, taking notes, trying not to appear alarmed.

We hear some of the stories in court, read them in warrants or indictments. The best ones, we hear straight from those who watched – as the plane fell from the sky, the car flew through the air, the tornado carved a path across the pasture.

Those things happen, maybe only a handful of times in a career. We chronicle it, but we can’t create it.

Most of the time, the story is what we’re curious about, what interests us.

We hope it’s interesting to you. If we hit that mark consistently, you’ll read. If we miss it, you won’t, and eventually we won’t matter to you. Too many newspapers have gone and are going down that road. We are passionate about not being one of them.

Our best hope – really, our only hope – is that we’re able to find your stories and tell them in a way that invites you in, captures the universal in the personal lives of the people around us.

They’re your stories.

We’re just the ones who are privileged to listen, and to tell them to the best of our ability.

Our greatest hope is that now and then, we get a glimpse of your heart.

The best stories have always been right there.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

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