In the previous segment of this interview, I talked with Ted Shockley, publisher of Eastern Shore First, our new local paper, about his approach to his work and the way that the community is changing. Ted has a preference for print (as opposed to online news) and I was particularly impressed with the way he sees a page layout as a visual representation of the community, with businesses existing side by side as they do in real life. He’s also got an eye for the humanity of the people he covers in those businesses.
In this segment we talked about newspapers, food, and churches. You know—-the essentials.
So, how has it been? Working on your own, is that a good thing?
It’s exhilarating. It’s hard to describe, because I’ve always felt like when I worked for any publication, I worked for them like I owned it. I always wanted to go home and say I put more into it than I got out of it. I always felt that way until it was my publication. I like it when it’s up to me to pass or fail. I like that challenge.
I don’t want to be challenged in anything else. I was never a great student, and I don’t want to do any chemistry, and I don’t wanna be challenged in any other area. But I enjoy writing and communicating to a community. That’s been a fun challenge for me. I like it coming down on my shoulders.
Fortunately, the reading public has responded very well. It’s been very humbling that people responded the way they have.
Well, I think it was something we needed, right?
Thank you for saying that. It’s probably a bad analogy, but I think of this as food. This is locally grown, organic, farm-to-table journalism. There are not huge corporations. There are no investors.
No antibiotics. This is organic. People want that in a dining experience, and I hope they also want it in a reading experience. I think of it like delivering a food.
You do the photos?
I do the photos. I’ve worked with people who are fantastic photographers. I’m an adequate photographer, just trying to catch moments. When I go to an event, I really want to take pictures of the people there. I might go and cover a concert, and never take a picture of the singer. I might take a picture of everybody in the audience, because I really want smiling faces.
When I was a kid and worked at the Eastern Shore News, I would go to Assateague in the summertime. I had a summer job there for three years, and they let me write summer stuff. I would go to Assateague, and I’d take pictures of people, and I’d never get their names. That’s like taking half a picture. If you don’t get their names, you really don’t have much.
That’s really good.
I also want, whenever possible, when I write about somebody, I want to know who their parents are.
That’s an Eastern Shore thing.
I want to put them in the paper. If you’re in the ESO ballet, and you’re one of the stars, I want to say you’re the son or the daughter of so-and-so, because nobody does that.
I am doing a story in next month’s issue on the Eastern Shore bakeries. We have these wonderful bakeries. I’m talking about an authentic bakery experience where you walk in and the smell.
All of them agreed to do it. So, I walk in and I’m talking to Shirleen [at the Anointed Hands Bakery]. She looks at me and she says, “You don’t have on your green shoes.” I said, “How did you know that I wore green shoes?”
She said, “You don’t remember writing about me?” I said, “Well, I remember the green shoes. I remember the year. It must’ve been 2012.” She said, “You wrote several stories when my son was burned to death.” I said, “Well, I remember exactly talking to you. I remember all of those stories.”
It’s good to talk to people three years later, four years later. These people who you had covered during their worst moments of their life. And now, they’re successful and happy, have found this great calling, and created this great business. That was humbling to go talk to somebody who…you were there for their worst moment. Now, you’re going to write about them in their best. She’s a great person.
Those are neat stories. I know that the mainstream news is important, and we need people to cover when things catch on fire, people die on the roads, and when there’s a shooting. But I want to write about the new bakeries.
That was humbling to go talk to somebody who…you were there for their worst moment. Now, you’re going to write about them in their best.
I’m glad to see that there are places [like the Crossroads Coffee Shop where we are meeting right now]. I mean, you can have a McDonald’s experience at any town in America, but we have places that can only be experienced here on the Eastern Shore.
My analogy for newspapers, in addition to restaurants, is that they were like churches. You have these traditional, faithful readers and they are getting older. What does this church do, what do newspapers do to bring in younger readers? I don’t know the answer.
I started from scratch. It’s a lot easier to start a newspaper from scratch or start a church from scratch than it is to change this 150-year-old tradition. How do you change that without making everybody mad? Because you’ll alienate the people who are your bedrock supporters. And I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I see them playing out everywhere.
One of the movements within churches is to try to get outside the building; moving into places like this which are third spaces, they call them, which is not a private space. It’s not a church space, but it’s a third kind of space where community can happen and where connections can happen.
So, we’ve been encouraging people to take their Bible studies into restaurants and coffee houses, and make connections with people who you just meet incidentally. Even meetings. I do a lot of meetings out now. It’s a whole lot less of a barrier for somebody to walk into a place like this than to walk into a church if they haven’t been there before.
Right. I’m always looking for these parallel roads. That’s a good way to think about something like this. It’s almost like a third space where, as you said, community happens. Community is a hard thing to make happen.
And when you try to make it happen, it’s forced and artificial.
It’s not very organic.
When it rises up from relationships, that’s different. Because we talk so much about needing to get younger and needing to reach people of different generations, sometimes older people hear that as an indictment against what they’ve done and who they are.
It’s all about finding the right words to make everybody part of it. About finding the commonalities. It’s just fascinating, because it’s so easy to find the words that exclude and really hard to find the words that include, in my opinion. What are the words to make people want to be a part of something?
It’s so easy to find the words that exclude and really hard to find the words that include…What are the words to make people want to be a part of something?
I hope it’s not sacrilegious to align my newspaper analogies with church, but if people leave and say that they’ve been bored, your church doesn’t survive, and your newspaper doesn’t either.