We ask a lot of our Valley Life columnists. While fulfilling their daily roles as employees, employers, spouses, parents, volunteers, participants and active Methow enthusiasts — which amounts to a full life — we also expect them to deliver, on time and with some substance, a weekly missive of 400-600 words. And photos, if we can get them.
We count on the columnists to be reporters, observers, inquisitors (I did not say nosy, but it helps) and, when it comes down to the Sunday or Monday crunch on deadline, clear and eloquent writers. We look for topicality, humor, familiarity with the community’s personalities, history and quirks, originality, diversity and, when called for, humility. Endless curiosity helps.
Try doing that week after week, month after month, year after year.
Fortunately for this newspaper, we have found people who not only take on the challenge, but also deliver the goods. Unfortunately for the newspaper and the community, we are losing one of them. Sarah Schrock, who has been our Twisp correspondent since taking over from the late Sally Gracie in 2016, is stepping down as she takes on the responsibilities of a demanding new job — one that’s perfectly suited for her, she says.
Sarah brought a wide range of insights, interests and knowledge to her column, and I often learned something about the natural world that I did not know before. Her work, family life and passionate concerns for this community’s well-being figured prominently in her writing.
Sarah will be offering a farewell column soon, so she can express better than I can what writing about Twisp and beyond has meant to her for all these years. We also may see periodic contributions from her in the future. We’re grateful to her for reflecting the community and representing the newspaper so well for all these years.
We have a great lineup of Valley Life columnists. The incredibly versatile Ashley Lodato has been the Winthrop correspondent since 2008 as well as regularly contributing award-winning stories and photography to the weekly newspaper and special publications. Next in seniority is Lower Valley columnist Joanna Bastian, who started as the Methow columnist in 2011 before taking over everything south of Twisp in 2013 when Sue Misao (then the Carlton correspondent) left the valley, a departure many readers lament a decade later. Shelley Smith Jones just celebrated her fourth anniversary as the Mazama columnist. Like Ashley, Joanna and Shelley also contribute to the newspaper and the magazines.
If you think you can keep up with them, we’d like to hear from you. Look in our classified advertising section in coming weeks for information about the position and how to apply.
In the past, when we’ve had to fill an occasional vacancy on the Valley Life page, I’ve deliberately made the job sound challenging, with high expectations for content and punctuality. There’s a reason for that. Coming up with a topic, and writing about it with some authority, is daunting. I’ve been writing columns and editorials on a regular basis for more than 40 years and I still find myself sweating over these 600 to 750 words on Monday nights (like now), or Sunday if I’m really efficient (I’m not).
So let me be hard-nosed about what we are looking for, and not looking for, in a columnist. If you “have always wanted to be a writer,” great, go for your dream. We are not in the market for elegies, essays, philosophical reveries or ponderous introspection. Personal reflections from your life and experiences are OK and welcomed, but this is largely an outward-facing job. Fact-gathering, personal interaction and interviewing skills are required. And we are in a deadline business. Reliability is essential. There’s also flexibility. The columnists operate pretty independently. We pass along ideas, but we don’t tell them what to cover or write about, and we encourage each to develop their own personal voice and style. I usually don’t know what they’re writing about until the column shows up in my email.
So, have I scared you off? If not, tell us why you should be the next Twisp correspondent on the Valley Life page.
When Sally Gracie left the paper in 2016, I wrote (it’s not plagiarizing if you quote yourself) that “the tradition of correspondents filing weekly reports from various parts of the Methow Valley goes back for decades in this newspaper.” The Valley Life page is where the valley’s heart beats. We intend to keep that pulse going strong.