As I spent my last Friday as Gallia’s senior reporter for Ohio Valley Publishing and the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, I took a last few, long moments looking at the phone numbers, notes and maps posted on my office walls to remember the conversations, stress and laughs held between them. I started my time as a journalist here in March 2015 and I will be leaving for Connecticut and new adventures after I exit this office with bittersweet feelings. My last large event here as a staff writer was covering the Gallia Black Lives Matter March.
However we individually feel about these moments, I can’t help but think, as I have many other times in my role roaming the community, how I am standing in living history and how much I love being a part of that. How will these moments be viewed in the future? And despite the fact it may be a negative or positive story or moment, I take a lot of pride (maybe more than I should sometimes) in having been able to capture those moments and share them as best I can from as many sides as possible and as accurately as I can attain with the present and the future of Gallia County.
There have been plenty of mistakes made on my end of the job. Either I hear it from our readers, my colleagues (who ever strive to make our team as best it can be), my better half (my fiancee) or I see it in my attempt at holding myself to a standard I try to set as high but practical. It’s been a long road. There’s been a lot of progress made on the foundations of failure. I’ll be the first to admit that. And there are certainly other areas to improve.
I was in a dark place several years before my time here in Gallia. In some ways, this area helped me reset and save my life. My five years here have been easily some of the best years of my life. I’ve made wonderful friends, spoken with amazing people, seen amazing events and met the love of my life. I have tried to apply my stronger skill sets in service to the public in hopes of making it a better place by my best efforts to uncover truth. I’ve developed a thicker skin. I’ve challenged my boundaries more times than I can think and taken part in helping others decide the future of their communities by handing them the tool of information, whatever their choice happened to be. I’ve shared many a difficult conversation with our area’s leaders in the hopes of better preparing the public for its future, however it chose to vote or act, while also trying to present and hold those leaders accountable as accurately as I can.
To my colleagues, thank you for your guidance, your dedication and humor for blazing a trail in rural journalism in a time when things continue to get more challenging for the industry as a whole. The dry, wholesome and sometimes gallows humor will be remembered for the rest of my days. You are among the area’s miracle workers and I will miss being in the trenches with you.
It’s going to be hard leaving a place I very much consider home. I’ve been told it’s hard to integrate into this community as someone who hasn’t grown up in it. A lot of people have said I did a good job of becoming an honorary “local.” Maybe that’s true? I don’t know. I could easily name a dozen or more individuals who welcomed me with open arms, who made that possible and a great experience. And to you I say thank you. Thank you for being a friend, even if I couldn’t say it professionally. You were the only reason I was able to understand this area, if I was ever a “local.”
The area has its problems. Those who live here already know them and I don’t need to remind people of them here in this word space. I’ve done it enough on the front page. Those problems are a work in progress and I’m confident the people here will find their own solutions to those problems as they always have.
I’ve often said being a journalist in this county is like being in a marriage. You walk with it through the “good and the bad.” You might grumble about it but it never fails to surprise you. You come to love the little joys about it and hope to see it reach its potential. There are times you accept it for its flaws while trying to make it better and support it. We can make jokes about it, but if you’re not from here or understand what’s going on, be prepared to catch some heat.
If anything, I feel this area values genuine people and I’ve learned a lot from them. Appalachians, in general, don’t mince words. If they think you’re full of it, they’ll tell you that, regardless of your station in life. (I have personally experienced this many times). The vast majority of them appreciate politeness and etiquette but they aren’t afraid of a fight or roughing it. And I mean that in more ways than one. Appalachians, and I particularly reference Gallians, are a tough lot who have survived the worst drug epidemic of the era, continue to strive toward better education and make the best of limited resources in an area historically challenged by a lack of jobs and income. If the public doesn’t find help, they find a way to make solutions. It’s a “take the bull by the horns” mentality shared among Appalachians. They take care of their own but they expect others to contribute in helping others in kind or you’re on your own.
That said, there is also a tremendous amount of sympathy here for folks in hard situations, those who can’t give back. And it is found in Gallia and Appalachia’s helpers. I’ve written many stories about them, and if you don’t know who they are at this point, I’d urge you to look back. They aren’t hard to find, and I have nothing but respect for them. These are the folks who feed and serve the many with just a small amount of “fish and bread” as the pastors might say. They walk where others won’t. For an area as we’ve said that’s among the most economically challenged in the country, these folks are heroes and never fail to amaze me. That goes for your churches, your schools, your civic organizations, and yes, even your small town governments (yeah, they make plenty of mistakes, but sometimes you’d be surprised the good things they pull off, if you take the time to understand the circumstances they face).
Your veterans are among some of the most dedicated individuals I’ve ever had the honor of meeting. Having faced death abroad, many continue to serve their country at home in small town Ohio and well into their senior years.
This includes Gallia’s first responders. Yes, they walk a tight rope. They need held to a high standard. Criticize them appropriately when they falter but remember and thank them when they come running to danger when many would run away.
The arts programs here are also wonderful. Truly this area is gifted in those who seek to express and share music, paintings, photography, music and more. Appalachia has a culture surrounding it you’ll find nowhere else and Gallia very much has its own flavor of art inside that.
There’s no place quite like you, Gallia County. If there is anything I can leave you with, I ask that you keep an open mind to tackle projects, concerns, methods and solutions with the same passion you have for home, family, God and country. Combine the new with the old and you will, I think, surprise and inspire yourselves for the better. You have me.
Thanks for the memories. Thanks for being home. It has been a privilege.
Dean Wright, a graduate of Ohio University, joined Ohio Valley Publishing in March 2015 as a staff writer at the Gallipolis Daily Tribune. His last day with OVP was June 5.