Growing up in Charlottes-ville, Virginia, I was lucky to be surrounded by family, friends and educators who found value in discourse.

My parents often asked for my political opinions over the dinner table, my peers took their advocacy to the streets and my teachers challenged me to connect current events to chapters of my history textbooks.

Journalists make discourse possible. They equip us with the facts to form opinions, to argue articulately, to go deeper and expect more.

Though my path to journalism was not a linear one, I always hoped I would end up in the field. Because to me, there is nothing more motivating than helping equip a community with the tools needed for civic engagement.

After a stint as news editor of my high school paper, where I embarked on my first records request battle over school survey data, I headed south to Tulane University. There I studied International Relations, English Literature and the vibrant urban dynamics of New Orleans.

I missed the seasons, the mountains and all-day outdoor adventures. It was time to head west.

I spent the first half of my 20s working in food access and community agriculture in the San Luis Valley, northern New Mexico and Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. I learned the benefits and hardships of rural living and began to appreciate the sense of community found in small towns.

I saw so many struggles through my work those years: impoverished families living off-the-grid, multi-generation farmers forced to sell their water rights, distant health clinics, dry soil, plentiful opioids. I wanted city dwellers to understand the challenges facing the rural West, so I started to write again.

Freelance articles led to a magazine internship, which led to a reporter job with the Herald Democrat, which led to an editorship. As I write this, I am humbled to find myself where 15-year-old me hoped to be some day.

Putting pen to paper, or more accurately thought to type, is my favorite part of this job. Every sentence is its own lyrical puzzle, like a math problem with words, not numbers.

Communicating with people is my runner-up. Listening to stories, asking questions, allowing an interview to flow where the current takes it, these are the reasons why journalism is for me.

The transition to editor is bittersweet, as much of my time is now spent designing layout, editing content and pulling loose ends together. I plan to continue to write articles and attend interviews and meetings whenever I get the chance.

I also must mention that the Herald Democrat brought me to Leadville. And it is through the newspaper that Cloud City has become home.

In a relative sense, I am a newcomer to Leadville. I am still catching up on mining terminology, the Tabor family tree and the county courthouse scandals of past decades. But the love that I hold for this place feels quite evolved.

This week, Marcia, Stephanie, Hannah, Chuck and I welcomed the Herald Democrat’s new reporter, Sean Summers, to our team. A Colorado native, Sean comes to the paper with a background in environmental journalism and an aptitude for small-town living.

Beyond byline titles, not much will change at the Herald Democrat in the coming weeks. Our submission deadlines, office hours and press-day crunch will remain the same.

If you are wondering how to best support your community newspaper in this time of transition, I would say this:

Stop by the office. Tell me what we can do better or what you hope stays the same. Write a letter. Call Sean with a tip. Place an ad with Stephanie. Email your event write-up to Chuck. Buy a subscription from Hannah.

But mostly, read the Herald Democrat and allow yourself to think, question and engage. Attend public meetings. Talk to your elected officials. Vote. Create discourse.

Rachel Woolworth

Herald Editor

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