I’ve learned more in the past week than I did the entire preceding year.

That’s probably hyperbole, but not by much. My first week-and-change at my first daily reporting job has brought story after story, and not just the ones that went on the page.

I’ve learned (from my editor, full disclosure) that if you visit the site of a house fire the next day, you can talk to the family and learn what they lost and where they’re headed. Do that and you’ll blow your own story, the one you would’ve written with the transcription of the fire marshal’s quotes, out of the water. 

I’ve learned how uncannily interesting local government can be. I’m already obsessed with Lenoir’s renegade Libertarian Mayor Pro-Tem, who votes against everything — even Google. (He’s quoted in this Bloomberg Businessweek story, see if you can find him.)

I’ve learned about the role of trust in local reporting. It is so much easier to step into the role (and inherit the Rolodex) of a careful reporter who’s spent years building the community’s trust, than it is to bear a student newspaper’s name on your sleeve every time you try to get some answers. (I don’t think I’ll ever love anything more than The Appalachian but student newspapers are, by their nature, inconsistent messes.)

I’ve learned what happens when an industry up and leaves, seen the sadness and the floundering the furniture giants left here when they disembarked for China. Any feature about a young male of a certain age begins like this:

Reporter: So, how did you wind up doing (x)?

Subject: Well, when I lost my job at the factory…

Today, I was interviewing an elderly woman at one of the local recreation centers for an article on black history month. The conversation meandered a little, and I asked about the relatively low number of black young people employed by the city. She explained that it’s not a race issue; since furniture left, Lenoir loses nearly all of its bright young people to opportunities in other cities.

And then she said it:

“The young people, black and white, they’re gone. And they’re not coming back.”

It was the best quote I’d ever gotten. And it had nothing to do with my story. I couldn’t use it.

But I felt the town in every word of it and I’m starting to learn how important that is: That a town is like a person, that you have to know it before you can write about it with any authority. I’m so far from that. But I’m closer than I was last week.

And at the risk of injecting opinion, I’ll say it: I’m rooting for Lenoir.