Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Hannah Rosemurgy
The air in the office is still, cool and quiet. John returns from lunch and sits down at his desk, carefully taking off his cowboy hat and placing it beside him. Across the room, another head peeks out behind a computer, mentioning information to her editor, Valorie. Her desk is filled with calendars of events, such as a grandmother’s refrigerator, reminding her what she has yet to cover before deadline.
The Daily Union newsroom sits on the corner of West Main in Shelbyville. Three employees occupy the office; nothing more, nothing less. As a result of the 2008 recession, dramatic staffing reductions had to be made. Half of the reporting team was lost, leaving the responsibility up to Valorie Eversole and John Curtis.
“My workday is 24/7,” said managing editor Valorie Eversole. “Unfortunately, that can be a problem.”
Despite the reductions, Eversole and Curtis treat Shelbyville as if it were a child, trying to make sure that no event is ever left behind and unattended.
“When the recession really hit in, they looked in at cutting staff,” she said. “We try to cover the whole county, which is ridiculously huge.”
The memories Eversole has of Shelbyville make the town more than just a tourist attraction. An Eastern Illinois University alumna, she grew up in the area and later became a Daily Union full-time writer in 2006. Despite frustrations, Eversole wouldn’t consider leaving her demanding job as an editor and reporter, as the newspaper is one of the only local newspapers that share Shelby County’s stories.
“I’ve lived here for 37 years,” she said. “I just think this town has to have a newspaper; it’s the county seat.”
Eversole and Curtis are not completely alone. Residents are willing to submit briefs from local events, helping the editors fill pages with relevant information. They keep in contact with countless townsmen and officials, who aid the team by informing them whenever an event is announced.
“They say ‘I don’t know how you do it’, and I say ‘I know, that’s why I need you guys’,” Eversole said. “They seem to understand how we’ve diminished so much.”
With such a connection with the town, Eversole and Curtis have developed various relationships with the citizens, strengthening the bond between the newspaper and its readers. Since the staffing cut, the two have learned about locals’ lives, which is one of the best stories to share according to Eversole.
“Once you know all the people, personalities start to come through,” she said. “When you see them grow up, you feel like you’re family.”
Curtis, sports editor for the Daily Union, writing about the children of Shelbyville puts a caring smile on his face. For the young athletes of Shelbyville, the Daily Union ensures that a special place in the paper exists for them. Watching middle schoolers turn into adults is just one of the things Curtis enjoys as a small town writer.
“I just like to write about the accomplishments of the kids,” he said. “That’s the neat thing about it, you get to watch them grow. It feels like I was a part of [their lives].”
Curtis said he was never a star in high school, but he remembers being mentioned in his paper a number of times and his parents being proud of his achievements.
“Especially with sports, [parents] want something they can cut out. You can’t cut out a printed out article from the internet, it’s not the same as it being published in your newspaper,” he said.
The editors don’t only tell the stories of the county, they document the history of Shelbyville, a useful resource for future generations. In the Shelbyville Public Library, all editions up to the late 1800s can be found in a tiny back room, surrounded by microfilm machines library patrons may utilize.
“A lot of it is for genealogical research. There’s a lot they can’t find on ancestry.com,” said library director Monica Cameron. “The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library converts all of the newspapers to microfilm, and it allows visitors to come in and research.”
The community has acknowledged the Daily Union’s dedication. Dozens of thank you cards and letters from readers scatter Eversole’s left hand drawer, appreciative of the hard work and effort, even if it is only a three-member staff.
“Everyone needs a small town paper,” Curtis said. “There’s always a place for the newspaper.”