Sharing rural residents’ stories is best part of job

posted Dec. 26, 2017 7:13 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Benjamin Wideman, Regional Editor |

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Since my journalism career began in 1994, I’ve written an estimated 10,000 stories.

Some days I’d write six or seven, and other days I’d write one or none.

Either way, the most challenging stories for me always seemed to be those that focus on myself — like this column.

I’m not all that intriguing. My life revolves around a predictable cycle — work, eat, sleep. Repeat. And occasionally mix in a trip somewhere interesting just to spice things up.

However, here’s one tidbit about myself: I often do things in threes. After locking a door I’ll check it three times. I’ll eat three pieces of cheese at a time. And I’ll adjust the TV volume in multiples of three. (Evidently, I also compile lists in batches of three). 

But I digress.

When it comes to journalism, I much prefer telling other people’s stories through words and photographs. That’s why, after a three-year hiatus (darn, there’s that three again), I eagerly re-immersed myself in the world of journalism this past summer when I joined the talented team at The Country Today.

Five months into my tenure as the eastern Wisconsin regional editor, I’m enjoying every minute of it. Sharing stories of our rural residents is the best part of this job. First and foremost, because of the people I’ve met along the way. Whether they’re colleagues, interview subjects or cashiers giving me change at rural gas stations, they’ve all been wonderful.

Frankly, I expected nothing less. That’s a big reason I wanted to write for The Country Today — because so many of the folks in rural communities are honest, hardworking, personable men and women who are easy to speak with and don’t beat around the bush.

As a journalist, I’ve always appreciated asking a question and getting a straight answer instead of one shrouded in mystery and double meanings. There’s a reason I always shied away from doing stories about politics.

I’ve equally appreciated working alongside people who truly care about their profession and the people they cover.

That why it’s bittersweet to see our editor, Jim Massey, heading off into retirement in a few days at the end of 2017. By all accounts, he has done a marvelous job leading this publication over the past two decades, and it has been an honor getting to know him and witnessing his passion for agriculture and rural life.

The same goes for my colleague Sara Bredesen, with whom I have shared coverage duties in eastern Wisconsin since summer. As she prepares for retirement in a few days as well, I’ll be shifting gears and stepping into this role full time. I have big shoes to fill, no doubt about that. But Sara’s insight and assistance over the past five months has proven invaluable as I’ve gotten to know my coverage area.

From presidential visits to pop star musicians to professional athletes, I’d had the pleasure of covering many people and events over the years.

But it’s spending time talking with the people who make our rural communities great that truly invigorates me each and every day. People like Charlie Bauer of Newton, who keeps rural history alive by creating models of the building in his community. Or Jim Chapman of Silent Night Evergeens in Moundville, who graciously explained the ins and outs of growing trees — and a few days later was at the White House with his family presenting the official Blue Room tree. Or Michelle Endries of Horsey Habit in Manitowoc, who has distinguished herself as a premier saddle fitter in the state.

Wisconsin and our neighboring states are chock-full of residents living and working in rural areas, and I look forward to telling their stories in the weeks, months and years to come.

Benjamin Wideman covers northeastern Wisconsin for The Country Today. Hecan be reached at

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