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Opinion

Simon: Along the streets of Morris — right where a small town girl belongs

A few days before I officially started with Shaw Media, I took myself to Morris for a little walk.

I’m not at all unfamiliar with the area. As a fan of local history, one of my favorite places to visit is the I&M Canal, and I’ve taken myself on countless walking tours with Google as my guide in every town along the corridor.

Walking up and down the canal, down Liberty Street, zig-zagging from the business district to the residential blocks, I genuinely felt at home in this town.

I’m a small-town girl. Not by birth, but by choice.

Born in Chicago and raised in the suburb of Wheaton, I’ve moved around quite a bit, living in a total of 10 cities in the south and Midwest.

I attended Western Illinois University after high school, majoring in broadcast communications, and spent the first five years of my journalism career working as a writer and producer in small- and mid-market television.

After learning the craft in towns from Rockford to New Orleans, I eventually left television news, opting instead for part-time work and to stay home with my first child. But after son No. 2 arrived in 2006, I realized that the stay-at-home parent lifestyle wasn’t really my speed.

I missed writing, I missed reporting,
I missed storytelling.

My husband, Jim, and I had moved to his hometown of Wilmington (he truly IS a small-town boy), and I started to work for the local paper, spending 11 years covering the city of Braidwood.

I often was spotted around town with my children, Hank and George, in tow. First a toddler and a kindergartner, they now are both teens.

But they’ve spent years assisting me on stories, holding my things, grabbing my camera, finding one of my dozens of lost pens, and eventually the older one even started running errands for me.

My years in small-town news gave me an opportunity to develop as a journalist that I had never considered when I was younger and starting in television. Back then, I dreamed of big city news and the constant turnover of one fast-moving and hard-hitting story after another.

But things started to change in New Orleans. Newscasts moved very fast, and sometimes the news items I wrote were as short as 15 seconds long.

I wasn’t telling stories; I was writing sound bites. Sound bites that were likely forgotten by the time the weatherman showed up later in the newscast to tell us that once again, it was hot in Louisiana.

When I left TV, I thought I was done with journalism for good. So, when the opportunity arose to write news, I jumped at it, knowing I would love to start storytelling again. But what I didn’t know was just how much I would love filling the role of informing the public in a smaller town.

People are busy. No one has time to go to every local meeting, to see who is opening a business, to keep up with every civic group, to track down maintenance schedules to find out when roadwork is scheduled.

That’s where we come in. And as it turns out, it’s a service I love to provide.

Like my predecessor, Kevin Solari, who has moved on to another Shaw publication in DeKalb, I’ll be hanging out most days at the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce office in Morris. I’ll also be at meetings, festivals, outings, events and your basic, local newsworthy affairs.

When I’m not reporting locally, I can be found wandering. I wander a lot. Forest preserves, state parks, business districts, bike trails – if there’s a something for me to look at, I’ll wander.

I also take writing and improv classes at The Second City Training Center in Chicago, in an effort to give proper attention to my creative side.

I look forward to learning the ins and outs of Morris.

I already have started my research into Elsie Anderson, the matriarch of the city’s founding family – just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to notable folks for me to learn about.

I pride myself on becoming a bit of a local expert in every town I work in, so I hope to not let you down!

• Marney Simon is the editor of the Morris Herald-News. She can be reached at msimon@shawmedia.com.

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