End of an era for this SF Columnist
November 29, 2016
Passionate journalists who believe in their community are slowly disappearing across every corner of this state and many others.
Many editors or reporters who had a stake in their community have retired, quit, moved on to another job or passed away. Anne Pershing was a community journalist, defined as a reporter or editor who covers city neighborhoods, individual suburbs or small towns. More journalists, according to many trade publications, work for community newspapers than the large metropolitan dailies. The heart of the small community pulsates out with stories of everyday individuals trying to make each day better by what they do or how they help others.
As a reporter and then editor for 19 years (15 with the Lahontan Valley News and four with the Fallon Star Press), Anne Pershing was that kind of journalist, and it was her philosophy of becoming immersed in a community was handed down to other aspiring reporters and editors.
Working for a community newspaper in eastern Nevada for six years changed my direction and attitude about journalism after my college days. During my undergraduate semesters in journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, I took classes in broadcast and public relations, hoping to be the next network reporter. Once I headed to Elko County after a year with Wyoming Game and Fish's public affairs section, the community newspaper bug then bit me, and I never shook it loose.
It only intensified after arriving in Fallon in 1986 when I first met Anne. I had been hired by the school district to teach senior, sophomore College Bound English and journalism as well as teaching students how to put out a newspaper. Although she was a reporter and news editor for the five-days week publication, I immediately sensed her enthusiasm for covering the day-to-day events in Fallon. After Anne became editor in April 1987, I approached her about writing high school sports for the following school year because previous "stringers" or freelancers had let her down.
First, she wanted me to cover the fall sports that year such as football, volleyball and some cross country. Near the end of the fall sports season, she then asked me if I would be interested in covering basketball and wrestling and then spring.
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She felt nothing connected a reporter faster to a community's people than to be immersed in their beats or assignments, something I discovered earlier in my journalism career while writing articles for a weekly newspaper.
Later, I found out Anne wanted to strengthen the coverage of high school sports because youth athletics was important in a community such as Fallon. Later, we concentrated on youth sports although during the past decade, receiving results from the various baseball and softball programs becomes harder with each year because coaches don't seem as interested in promoting their ballplayers.
During her 15 years as editor, Anne was very supportive of her reporters as long as they showed responsibility and the ability to cover news in such a small community. She challenged her reporters to take their stories up a notch or two with information. "Why" was just as important as "what." Furthermore, Anne was always open to ideas or supported reporters who were willing to go that extra mile to get "the big story" — something that seems to be lacking with the newest crop of young journalists who are more interested in the clock than finishing the event.
Many times during a Sunday afternoon in the mid to late 1990s, Anne and I would work on the Monday newspaper. Whether we were pasting and waxing down stories on the layout sheets for a Monday newspaper, sitting down to chat in her office about a non-sports story or having a bite to eat, the conversation not only centered on the job but also our families. I learned as much about her two children, Jenny and Tim as she did about mine. As an older sister, she saw my children grow up — Thomas, who was born overseas while I taught in Panama and did my time with the U.S. Army Reserve at the Southern Command Television Network, which provided programs to the military and civilian employees living in the Canal Zone to David, who loved the feel of a camera and enjoyed taking football and rodeo photos; and finally to Stephanie, who tagged around to the games. As the boys became older, Anne allowed them to bite their teeth in journalism as photographers. Since they always wanted to watch the Greenwave, I first put Thomas to work as a photographer, and then David, while both boys were in their early teens.
Eventually, Thomas wrote his first newspaper article when he was still in junior high school, and Anne was always there to offer advice.
Anne and I probably knew each other better than most employer-employee relationships
After Anne left the LVN in late 2002, we stayed in contact and even more so when she became editor at the Fallon Star Press. What most people don't realize is four years as competing editors, we kept in contact, talked regularly, had lunch at Jerry's from time to time, bounced ideas off each other and moaned about the ever-changing profession. She persuaded me to become the editor of the LVN in 2008 because she wanted someone to hold Fallon's heart. We never allowed outside influences to interfere with that. Although Anne's biggest and most honored achievement came in 2008 when the Nevada Press Association inducted her into its Hall of Fame, she would not let anyone else present the NPA's 2012 Journalist of the Year award to me.
Sadly, I last saw Anne a few months ago when she was in Fallon and talked to her several weeks before she died. After the Star Press closed its doors because of the recession, I admired her tenacity to continue with journalism by writing a weekly newspaper column,
It's that community newspaper bug that infected her — which she passed on to me — to be the eyes and years of small-town America.