Dripping metal mugs

I didn’t think I’d need to think creatively too often when I started this job. I thought I would just report on car crashes and fires and meetings, nothing too interesting, nothing that needed embellishment.

There was one turning point, a very frustrating point, when an editor made me rewrite one small story several times. She wanted me to paint a picture of what happened at the event. She didn’t just want me to throw out information. She wanted me to capture the audience.

I didn’t quite get it after that story, but I began to (you can read it here). I cringe looking back at that story. I could have told it much better.

Not only did that story push me to become a storyteller, but it showed me the impact of the words I write. That week,, only one family came to the event. The next week, I was told that dozens of people showed up because they saw my article. A park volunteer told me more people continued to go throughout the summer.

There was a fantastic reporter who worked at The Evening Sun years ago. He was an incredible storyteller. The editors still mention his stories several times a week. I feel like I am living in this man’s shadow. I have to fill his huge shoes. This man I have never met has been a source of stress for me, because I can’t be him. I can’t be as good as he was.

During slow evenings, I have read through our archives and skimmed through the hundreds of stories this reporter wrote for the paper, becoming more intimidated at each one. But one evening, I decided to go back to the very first story he wrote.

It didn’t blow me away like his other stories did. As I worked my way through the oldest stories of his, I realized that he had mundane assignments too. He didn’t turn a story about a car accident into a poetic treatise about the fragility of life. Some times he simply reported. Others, he painted a picture and captured his readers.

I realized that even this great reporter started at the beginning like me. I am still very much at the beginning. Even though now I have over 100 bylines, that’s nothing compared to the over 1,000 this man has.

But we both started somewhere.

Today, as I roamed around a festival puzzling how to craft a story out of the large event that stays more or less the same year after year, I asked myself what that veteran reporter wouldn’t have done.

He probably wouldn’t have asked random people what their favorite festival food was (yes, I’ve done this. Not at this festival but others for sure.)

He probably wouldn’t have roamed around with an order of sweet potato fries for as long as I did, stressing over where the story was.

So I roamed, and when I found something I thought was interesting, I talked to the people behind the booths. I watched people make apple cider with an antique press. I sampled warm applesauce as someone told me about the process to make it. Still not particularly great stories, but I started taking in the sights, sounds and smells and describing them in my head, as if I were writing about them.

I’ve always thought a lot of weight was on me to ask the right questions to get the right information and quotes to write a good story, but now I’m learning that sometimes the best thing to do is sit and watch what is happening and jot down what I see.

I got into a line for the shuttle back to the parking lot with a half-formed story in mind that I deemed good enough. I wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

Until a saw the guy holding a metal mug filled with soda, dripping with condensation.

That was the AHA moment for me. That was the descriptor I needed to link my story to the bigger idea of the festival.

So I wrote in my notebook on the shuttle: DRIPPING METAL MUGS.

And you can see what I made of it here.

I can only hope that in a few months when I look back on this story, I cringe, knowing I have become a better storyteller.

Stories behind stories

The moments that make my job worth it, the moments that make me love my job and bring me back to work each day are moments that are never written about or published.
 
As a journalist I have to take myself out of the story. I tell other people’s stories. I am a tool to tell those stories. But yet, when I’m interacting with people, things happen. I’m not invisible when I interview people. 
 
So here’s some stories behind the stories, the behind-the-scenes things that make me love my job. I suggest you skim over the stories before you read my anecdotes, but do whatever you want.
 
Young Marines: These kids took the mock situation they did so seriously that they forgot I wasn’t one of the actors. I went to one of the rooms where they were taking care of a “sick person,” to take photos and they shooed me out of the room! They were told that reporters like to come to Red Cross shelters, but they have to ask permission before taking photos. I didn’t ask the kids so they shooed me away. After they realized their mistake, we laughed about it. Also, these were some of the most mature, considerate kids I’ve met. When the photographer from the paper came, one boy rushed to find him a chair during their classroom instruction time. When I interviewed one of the teenagers, I got wonderful, articulate responses. Usually when I talk to teenagers, I can’t get much out of them, but this story was a joy to work on.
 
Service dog: This story isn’t published yet, but I interviewed a woman who has a service dog for seizures. The dog quietly laid under the table we sat at, except for the times he was licking my toes. The owner apologized profusely and said he never did anything like that before. This dog first alerts her to her seizures by resting his head on her feet. He has been known to go to random people in stores and nudge peoples’ feet, only to find out that the person is having some sort of aches or pains. Once I heard this, the dog licking my feet made sense: he knew my feet were hurting (I’ve got REALLY messed up feet according to my chiropractor).
 
Blackberries: I’m not allowed to accept freebies of food or anything else when I’m on assignment. Sometimes I really don’t like having to turn people down with their offers, especially if I do really need that bottle of water they want to give me! But when I worked on this story, the woman from the berry farm managed to get me to eat berries, and even blackberries. I don’t even like blackberries, but these were delicious. She and I walked down the rows of berries as she showed me how to pick the perfect berries and how these berries were different from the ones in the grocery store. I only ate about five, and she wanted to send me home with some, but I declined. It was just so fun to spend time with someone who found joy in something as simple as picking berries and telling people about it. The best days at work for me are the ones where I get to talk to really passionate people. Passion is the key to getting a good interview from someone, I’ve found.
 
McSherrystown: There was multiple stories on the 250th anniversary of the founding of a nearby town that I wrote, so I won’t link to them all. When I went to one of the last events, there was a table of artifacts and momentos about the history of the town–250 years of history. At the end of the table, one of the articles I wrote was printed out on paperboard and displayed. It was so sweet to see that, and to see a story I wrote displayed alongside pieces of the town’s history. For a long time, I wanted to be a history teacher. When I decided to be a journalist, i realized I wouldn’t be teaching it, but recording it instead. That moment seeing my work displayed made that reality for me.

Adulting

Every little kid somehow wants to grow up, me included. I always looked forward to the next step: in elementary school, I looked forward to being able to go to youth group. When I was in high school, I looked forward to college. In college, I looked forward to my semester in DC, and then, to the point I am at now.

I always had a general idea of what was to come in life. Now, not so much. Now, there’s more factors in my life to make decisions about; more things to go wrong.

Take my car for instance. It was not in my plans this summer to have to buy a car and use a rental car for two weeks. I did not expect my car to break town twice in a week, the first time on my birthday. Now my least favorite day of the month is the 19th, when one-third of my paycheck zaps itself away from my bank account.

My plan was to be living on my own by now. That plan zapped itself away too, for a variety of reasons. But graciously, I have wonderful friends whose families adopt me. I’ll be living 45 minutes away from work until January, but in the long run, it’s the best decision.

I don’t know what the next step is. I’ve been pleading with God to reveal it to me, but over and over again the answer seems to be to stay put. Stay put in my job, my friendships, as a single woman, in the place I live…

Being an adult is nothing like I expected it to be. In a lot of ways, it is better. In a lot of ways it is worse. I’m learning gratitude goes a long way. I wouldn’t be able to make it through every crisis that comes my way without finding something, anything to be thankful for.

Like,

  • Being an adult on my own means I can eat poptarts whenever I want (growing up, Thursday was poptart day).
  • Even though I have to pay bills, at least I have a way to PAY said bills!
  • That I live close enough to take weekend trips to visit my family and most of my friends (which I did last week to visit two of my best girlfriends in New Jersey and Philadelphia and several weeks ago to surprise my family with a visit).
  • That I’m able to put down some roots, knowing I’ll be in this area for a while longer. I’m so used to planning my life semester by semester. Now I can commit to helping out with church and joining Bible studies and such, which I am doing in abundance, starting tonight!
  • That my social life has changed in my post-college life. Honestly, I don’t know how I managed in college. Everything was social in college. I couldn’t even use the bathroom without having a conversation in the hall! I am drained by social interactions (I love being with people, but I need my alone time). My job requires me to be constantly interacting with people and when I get home, I don’t want to be with anyone!  My social life is more structured now: going to a church group with a friend from college in the area on Tuesdays, hanging out with a coworker once or twice a week, and so on. I was really scared I would have no friends after college, but I’m happy with how things are now.
  • For lazy Wednesdays like today where I run errands, hang out in Starbucks, go thrifting, go to church, and of course, pay those bills 😉

Recent articles I’ve written:

Farm Auction

Line of Duty Memorial

Getting Back to Farming Roots

Dear McSherrystown,

Dear McSherrystown,
 
I am a self-proclaimed city girl. I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, and have spent time living in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. I love cities. When I started working in Hanover, I scoffed. I met a lot of people who had lived here their entire lives. In my mind, these people never got to experience the world. They all thought this area was the best because they hadn’t experienced anything else.
 
I made fun of the so-called “small town charm” and have been imagining and pining for the day when I get to return to Washington, D.C., which is where my heart calls home.
 
After this weekend, I am a little more okay with waiting for that day to come.
 
I spent the weekend hearing people talk about a town they LOVE. Over the course of the weekend where residents celebrated the 250th anniversary of the town, I spent at least 10 hours listening to people talk about McSherrystown.
 
I learned that a lot of people did leave for a short while, but came back. Many served in the armed forces or got jobs elsewhere, but they returned to McSherrystown.
 
Someone said Friday that in McSherrystown, everyone has a nickname and everyone comes back. Now I see why everyone comes back. Because, after spending many hours over the course of two days with McSherrystown residents, I feel like part of the family.
 
I sat in the senior center on Saturday and heard the stories of several old timers. One woman said she didn’t grow up here, but has spent the last 30 years of her life in McSherrystown. It’s home. She and her husband don’t have any children, but she said the town makes up for that. She put her hand on my back, just like my grandmother does, as to say that I’m part of what that town is to her.
 
I would walk into an event and people seemed to know me, but I had never met them. They’d say “Oh there’s our reporter!” and smile. People I never met knew my name and welcomed me with open arms.
 
I wasn’t feeling well Friday night at the anniversary banquet. A greeter asked me how I was feeling the next day. After being on my feet or outside for a long time, I was offered more drinks than I can count. I mingled in the back yard of a local family and joked with a family member visiting from out of state. I saw a committee member when I went to church this morning and instead of feeling freaked out by this small town family, I felt like I was welcomed into a home.
 
And this area will remain home for a while. Although I go to bed each night in York, my family is in Pittsburgh and I pine for Washington, D.C., this is a place where I feel welcome. Thank you for that welcome.
 
Stories from this weekend:

Telling the story

At the Washington Journalism Center, I spent a lot of time trying to identify what the story was. I was taught not to write about an event with the story form of “First speaker said this. Then he said this. Last he said this.” I had to find the main idea and make that the lead of my story. It was hard but I finally think I got it.

I thought I had it all down when I started this job as far as figuring out the story. That was partially true. I could identify the story; what would be interesting to the readers, but I didn’t know how to tell that story in more than one sentence.

I turned in an article about an ongoing event at a nearby state park with all the details of where and when and one or two sentences on what to expect. I thought that was good enough.

Well, it wasn’t. I needed to expand on what would go on at the event, to paint a picture with my words so people would be interested enough to go.

It took around three rounds back and forth with an editor before she was satisfied, but now I can credit this story with showing me how to tell stories from beginning to end rather than just identifying the main idea.

A week or so later, the same editor complimented me on my storytelling for another event. This event was literally a dozen senior citizens sitting under a tent eating strawberry shortcake. I found a story to tell, told it, and the editor asked what kind of photos we had.

I told her: old people. sitting at a table. eating.

She asked if anything else happened worthy of taking pictures of.

Nope.

She said something along the lines of “well you made it sound so much more than that in your story!”

Yes, because I talked about how this was the first time this event was done and how the organizers just wanted to break even. It was a risk for them.

It still feels a bit strange to me to spend more words describing a scene or an event than spurting out facts. I am so used to churning out facts and quickly as I can in a story. 

In some cases, like when writing about the typical run-of-the mill car accident, the facts is all you need. But when it comes to rallies, strawberry festivals, and bird watching, people need more. So i have to paint them a picture.

Here’s some pictures from my life the past few weeks:Image

 

This is what my first coverage of a car accident with entrapment looked like

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I got to drive some beautiful rolling hills with old barns and apple orchards on my way to cover a fire.

And then insert a lot of pictures of car accidents. I didn’t realize how many of them I go to until I went through my photos!

 

 

Comfort

I am no stranger to brokenness; I’ve dealt with my own, I have been through restless nights thinking about my friends in rough situations. Over time, I’ve become better at not taking other peoples’ issues upon me, but still being empathetic.

I’ve experienced some new territory in the past few weeks. I encounter some pretty difficult things every day for my job. They have nothing to do with me, but I am thrown into these situations on a daily basis where people are scared, hurt, and confused, and I am supposed to tell their stories.

Earlier this week I was on the scene of a fairly straightforward vehicle accident on a main road involving two cars. One turned without looking and smashed into another vehicle. Police usually can’t tell me what happened because it is “under investigation,” so I rely on the witnesses to give me their take on what happened. When I get on the scene, I ask the fire police if I can come onto the scene and I immediately tweet my observations: how many cars, damage, if there’s an ambulance or helicopter, and how bad traffic around it is. Then I get as much information from the police and tweet that and perhaps a photo of the scene. Then I try to talk to a witness. The witness is usually one of the drivers.

Obviously it’s pretty upsetting to be in a car accident where the police have to come. Although the police said there was no injuries at this scene, there was, just not the kind they tend to report. I spoke to the driver that got smashed into. She was injured emotionally and had a minor physical injury. She didn’t say much and her eyes were just shocked/scared. She cradled one arm in the other; there was a nasty gash on one arm. She wasn’t in the hospital or dead. her car had damage. On the surface it didn’t seem like a big deal, but I could tell it was a big deal to her.

What should I do in situations like this? I have to admit that our exchange was pretty awkward. In my attempts to be comforting and avoid cliched phrases, I stumbled over my words.

At the scene of another accident, a mother was driving her car with three children in it. Mom and one of the kids were taken to the hospital. When I got there, the two kids and grandma were there. I talked to grandma, and the oldest child hid behind her. She was scared. Her mom and little brother had just been taken away in an ambulance and now this stranger (me) was asking her grandma a bunch of questions.

This time, I crouched down and said, “It’s ok. I’m just trying to find out what happened for the newspaper. Don’t worry–I’m not going to ask you a bunch of questions, because I know it was scary, and it was scary, wasn’t it?”

She started at me wide-eyed and nodded.

I want to remain professional in my work, but when I’m confronted with so many instances like this, I am struggling to find the perfect mix of professionalism and empathy. I don’t know what boundaries I can and should cross. I want to be respectful to the people I encounter but still get the information my editors expect.

I knew I’d have to do this kind of thing eventually, but I did not expect so much and so soon. This is taken even further when you add the issues I’m hearing about because of a huge story I am doing on heroin in the area. I’ve spent hours hearing the stories of people who have struggled with addiction and their families. I even sat down with a mother who lost her son three years ago. These mothers are so strong but they cry in front of me because their children who are about my age are struggling with drugs.

What do I do when they tell me that no one understands, that it is hard for them to tell their stories, and when they’re crying in front of me as I sit across the table and take notes?

Stories on big issues like this are why I wanted to go into journalism, but I feel so incapable and so unworthy of being in these strangers’ lives like this. I feel unworthy of the story of the mom of an addict and the woman with the gash on her arm. I’m this just 22-year-old recent college grad, but I am hearing the stories and pain of those older than me.

I have the potential to be a source of comfort in these situations. I have the opportunity to love these people, but it’s all so foreign. I can’t wrap my arms around the sobbing mother and hand her a tissue. I want to so desperately, but it’s not my job to be their friend at this point.

I don’t know how to end this gracefully. I am learning how to walk the line of the boundaries of empathy and professionalism. But I’m happy that I have this issue. It means I’m doing some good, worthwhile work on stories that really matter.

Classes I wish I would have taken in college

I was really good about selecting general education and elective classes in college. I wanted to pick things that could help me in my future career. I did a lot of things right. But, in the past few weeks of working as a full-time journalist for the first time, I kick myself sometimes for not taking the following classes:

  • Journalism Law: I wanted to take it, but I just didn’t have the chance to. It was only offered one semester and I was fully loaded that semester with other hugely valuable experiences and classes. I encountered issues with journalism and the law my SECOND day on the job when I was kicked out of a public place. I did not know what to do and if it was legal for me to be there or not.
  • Criminal Justice: Yes, I am the police reporter, but everyone in this newsroom at some point has to deal with crime. Even getting the language right to write about it is tricky. I deal with police departments and the legal system every single day. Sometimes I do stuff in court. I wish I came in with a better understanding of how these things work.
  • Another internship: I had two internships when only one was required of me. This was great and I am glad I did it. But, I wish I would have started interning sooner so I could have squeezed in another one. From others I know in the field, it seems like three internships is best.
  • Environmental science/ecology/etc: One of my responsibilities is to cover the news coming out of a nearby state park. Not everyone has to deal with this, but many reporters may need to write stories on a new factory and the environmental implications of it, or understand complex research students are doing at a nearby university.
  • Human Biology: I really do not like science, but this could be beneficial in many sectors of life. My newsroom does not have a designated health reporter, so I want to have an understanding of that, too. I’m working on a huge project that has implications in criminal justice, mental health, physical health, psychology, and family relationships. When someone is “unconscious in severe condition,” what does this actually mean?
  • AP Style: I only had to memorize a couple dozen entries from the AP stylebook throughout my four years of college, and now it is biting me in the butt every single day. These are small, but important things, and when you make mistakes on them you look pretty stupid to your editors.
  • Statistics: Sometimes I have to wade through statistics. Sometimes those stats are skewed because an organization presents them with an agenda. As a journalist, I need to present facts without presenting the agenda of another person or group.
  • American History: I took it in high school, but I hardly remember any of it. All towns love history and when a new monument is dedicated or there’s a new Robert E. Lee impersonator in town, it helps to know the history behind it all. The next few weeks will be filled with covering events for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg…and I hardly remember anything about the Civil War other than my 8th grade history teacher screaming “SHILOH” at us in his high-pitched voice.

On the flip side, I’m really glad I took these classes:

  • American Government: I took it as an elective and it was my hardest class that semester. Since I hope to have a job in Washington, D.C. someday, this will be useful to me. This class can also be useful if I have to cover anything in local government. 
  • Sociology: This was a part of my minor, and this type of class helped me understand how complex issues are and how many different things combine to make a huge problem. Inner city violence is not simple. Drug abuse is not simple. Realizing the complexities of life is the first step. Further into my minor, I became equipped to to research on these issues. Many of these skills intersect with journalism research skills, but are more advanced. Sociology helps me ask the right questions in complex situations.
  • Photography: I only took darkroom photography, but I loved it. I can’t work a DSLR yet, but when my editor tells me to go somewhere and no photographers are available, at least I can take a decent photo with good composition on a point-and-shoot that is worthy of publication.

My life lately (according to my phone)

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I finally got my work phone. It’s been kind of a crazy week for me. So I will visually recap it.

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I ordered business cards, which came in this week. How did I live without these for two weeks?

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Saturday I got to cover a bunch of neat events, including a Lavender festival.

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The last event on Saturday was a pontoon tour of a nearby state park. The photographer got pooped on by a cliff swallow…

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Under this portion of the lake is the remnants of the town out tour guide’s mother grew up in. The town was flooded to make the lake to provide water for a local factory, and the lake is part of the state park system.

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My roommate had a rough week, which called for various forms of food and crappy TV, including Samoa ice cream.Image

 

Add coffee to that mix. Really feeling the effects of this work schedule, and I am trying not to feel bad about doing nothing when I actually do have  time off. I’ve been pretty good at doing nothing for the past two days I’ve been off.

Small town girl

I am a city girl. I love how in many cities you can be completely anonymous to most people but still be able to find tastes of small town life.

I’m now working in a small town. It’s nice because I can walk to get a cup of coffee or to go to the bank, but I’d much rather live in a city.

Funny, though, my two favorite characters on TV lived in small towns.

I’ve been thinking about these two fictional women because I find myself identifying with them so much more now that I’m working in Hanover. Let me introduce you to them.

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Emma Swan is a character on Once Upon a Time. She lived in Boston but moved to the small town of Storybrooke, where she became the sheriff’s deputy, and later on, the sheriff. She is fiercely independent and doesn’t take anyone’s crap. She’s pretty intimidating.

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Lorelai Gilmore is from the show Gilmore Girls. She is a single mother and runs her own inn. She, too, lives in a quirky, gossip-prone small town called Stars Hollow. She’s sarcastic and does crazy things like wearing shorts and cowboy boots to drop her daughter off at private school.

Anyone who knows me at all should know why I like these two characters. I see aspects of myself in them. There are parts of me that want to be more like them.

That’s why I have learned to channel my “inner red jacket.”

I chose the pictures above for a reason. Both of these characters have a trademark red jacket they wear in an early season of their respective shows.

My roommate got rid of a pile of clothing a few weeks ago and let me pick at it before she donated it. I took a maroon pleather jacket, hung it up, and forgot about it for a few days.

It’s been unseasonably chilly the past few weeks. (Now I miss it, because I do not do 90-degree weather) I’ve had to bring some kind of jacket or cardigan to work. I wore the jacket one day to work. I felt so much more confident wearing it!

I started wearing it for a few days straight, whenever I went to cover an event, or to visit a police station. I started wearing it during the times where I needed a little boost. Even though I have been in journalism since high school, there are still some things that make me anxious. (For instance, I hate walking up to random people and trying to talk to them, but I’m getting paid now so I have to get over it.)

The red jacket made those instances of minor anxiety a bit sweeter.

Now, it is entirely too hot outside to be wearing anything other than short sleeves and the jacket has returned to the closet. I wished I could have worn it yesterday when I texted my mom panicking when I was sent to the county courthouse to do something I had no idea how to do and my car’s check engine light turned on. I felt like a timid, stupid little girl who needed her mommy. 

So I channeled my “inner red jacket.” I sucked it up and called my boss for help, and then marched to the correct office to get the paperwork I needed, then drove back safely to file two stories in a short time frame on topics I had previously known nothing about.

Another thing I know nothing about? Small towns. I’m learning. I’m learning that some of how small towns are portrayed in movies and TV are true. I’m learning that some things are even worse in real life. I’m finding the quirky things about this town. I’m learning that a lot of people know me, but I do not know them. 

I wish I could have a guarantee that one day I will have a job in a major city. But for right now, I have a job. It happens to be here. Just like my fantastic semester in Washington, D.C., my not-so-fantastic semester in Philadelphia, and my upbringing living 15 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, this will be a learning experience. I want to return to work in D.C. I can’t push it, though. I need to be here.

While I am here, I’ll continue channeling my inner red jacket.

 

Coherent Sentences

I have discovered a new kind of exhaustion..

I’ve been the work-at-camp-for-11-hours-a-day-for-11-days-in-a-row exhausted.

I’ve been stayed-up-until-four-and-woke-up-at-seven exhausted.

I’ve been prayed-and-prayed-with-no-answer exhausted.

But I have never been a high-on-life-sleep-deprived-hardworking-mentally-drained-journalist exhausted.

I am happy with this new exhaustion. I will sleep very well tonight. Tomorrow will probably seem very long. I will enjoy my days off, but I will probably miss my job and check my work email too many times.

I’m going to do this post in a list form of highlights, since I have written my fair share of coherent sentences this week (links to those groups of sentences otherwise known as articles below).

  • I got to meet with the woman who had my job two years ago and did a fabulous job of it. I finally have a good idea of what I am supposed to be doing. It’s going to be one crazy ride! Today it finally clicked for me today how to listen to the police scanner. I’m sure I will look back at that statement in a few weeks and laugh because it is a skill so basic to my job!
  • Things I have reported on this week: a flipped over car, a 90-year-old veteran who marched in a parade, the destruction of a local high school’s mascot, license-free fishing day, and African-American Civil War Veterans.
  • The article I wrote on hoarders made the front page of the York Daily Record, the larger sister paper of The Evening Sun! For about 24 hours, it had the most hits on the YDR’s website and The Evening Sun’s website.
  • I got to know my coworkers a little better. I spent two nights working in a mostly empty newsroom with one editor. I spent a day driving to and from Gettysburg several times with a photographer, and spent much of my day today with the other full-time photographer. I’m actually remembering people’s names now!

Articles from the week:

WWII Veteran Marches in Hanover (my favorite and best from this week)

Gettysburg cemetery pays tribute to Civil War veterans