Small towns have their advantages

“If you are any good, why aren’t you in New York?”

When you work in newspapers, you get used to hearing comments about your work. How your paper sucks. How you are incompetent, naive, money-grubbing, and, most recently, fake.

This comment was different. This was not personal. It was territorial.

I confess that I did not have a good response at the time.

I have one now.

Today, cities are growing in population while small towns struggle to keep schools and businesses open. Millions of people are drawn to the tempo, the entertainment, the diversity, the job opportunities of an urban lifestyle. Many also express a longing for that “someday” when they can retire and live where they want to live. In “God’s Country,” or “Up north,” they say. They live their entire lives wanting to be somewhere else.

As residents of small towns, we choose to live “somewhere else.” It is a choice we make knowing that we have fewer bakeries to get us started in the morning and smaller budgets for schools. We make the choice knowing that there are millions of people who see rural zip codes as the refuge of B-listers.

The irony is that we are now living in an age where we prize everything “craft.” Home-brewed beer. Beeswax soap made by artisan bees with their own Pinterest accounts. Craft butter churned not only by hand, but using tools that were deemed antique before Little House on the Prairie.

If something is small batch, hand made, custom-designed and available only to a select few, it is prized above all others.

Why doesn’t that apply to small towns?

We need to stop thinking about small towns and rural areas as cities with not enough people but instead, as custom-communities that we create for ourselves, a few people and a few issues at a time.

In our towns and townships, we are the designers of where we live.

We don’t have the layers of bureaucracy that stand between an individual and change. (We also lack the blissful anonymity or a large crowd to stand behind if we fail.) Rural communities reflect our vision and our dreams. We must do the work of making them happen — because there is no one else to do it.

We don’t live here because it is easier than living in a city. We live here because it is better. We stay here because we can make it better yet.

It is also the appeal, and the value, of a small newspaper. We can’t cover Washington and world events. We can bring to light the challenges and satisfaction that comes from living in a town where individuals are important.

There is a world of media out there to help you think globally. Your local newspaper can help you act locally.

We make a difference by bringing people together through the words and pictures we print and post. That is the pleasure of working for a small newspaper, and of living here.

We don’t just live in a small town. We, together, create a craft community.

So finally, I have a response to the question of how I can be any good at all if I don’t live in a city of a jillion plus: “I’m just lucky, I guess.”

Carol Ryczek is the editor-in-chief for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact her at cryczek@newmedia-wi.com