An ending and a new beginning

Last December I began a new chapter in my life.

After nearly 10 years at The Roanoke Times, I left to take a job with SustainFloyd, a non profit that aims to bridge the gap between rural traditions and the 21st Century global economy.

There are inherent risks in such a career jump, and it’s not a move I made lightly.

For more about the why’s of this, read on below the fold.

– Mason Adams

Note: This was originally published on the Roanoke Times Blue Ridge Caucus blog on Nov. 26, 2012.

 

My longtime goal since entering the journalism field in 2001 has been to secure a beat covering the large-scale changes affecting life in Appalachia. An increasingly global economy has wrought major shifts in traditional industries that once employed thousands of workers. I wanted to write about the pros and cons of those shifts and talk to people about ways to bring prosperity while preserving the quality of life in the mountains.

I came close to that goal during two years covering Franklin County, which exemplifies many of those trends. But with a newspaper industry that continues to shift and draw inward instead of expanding outward, the chances of achieving that goal seem longer than ever. I’ve also experienced a series of life changes in the last two years, marrying a wonderful woman and starting to raise a sweet, vibrant baby boy who’s now nearly eight months old.

Working for SustainFloyd offers me a hands-on chance to take on some of the issues I’ve watched for more than a decade. I’m going to work as the non profit group’s second full-time employee with a post that’s largely undefined, which leaves me the opportunity to make the most of it. The group’s work reaches back to many of the themes I’ve tried to approach in my career and personal life – most notably the balance between local culture and globalization. Much of the group’s work, whether through the farmers market, artisan trail tour or facilities to assist food and dairy producers in adding value to their products, is aimed at helping locals take advantage of regional and global opportunities.

Plus, Floyd is only about 10-15 minutes away from my house, so this change will cut nearly eight hours of commuting time each week. I plan to spend most of that extra time with my family, but I’m also picking up some extra work on the side. I can’t quite quit journalism completely, so I plan to freelance when I can.

Make no mistake: I’m bringing a journalistic approach to this new job at SustainFloyd. This is less about my ideas and more about helping the residents of Floyd County and the greater Blue Ridge Plateau. I’m hoping to learn from people at the Farm Bureau, Ruritan Clubs, Southern States and just generally just out and about. For that matter, I welcome your ideas. You can also email me at mason.j.adams [at] gmail.com.

I leave the Roanoke Times with a mighty affection both for that publication and the greater institution of journalism. The job of reporting and writing stories fit my personality in a way that no job had previously. I’ll hold close memories of people and stories.

Highlights:
– Franklin County tobacco farmer Johnny Angell and his plan to diversity his products by digging ponds to raise freshwater shrimp.

– Virginia’s role as a battleground state in the 2012 presidential campaign, including a visit by President Barack Obamamultiple visits by Mitt Romney and the chance to travel to coal country for an issue story. I also helped The Roanoke Times host two international journalists who traveled to Roanoke for 10 days to cover the final stretch of the election.

– The last stand of longtime 9th District Congressman Rick Boucher (including a look at his career) as part of the 2010 mid-term Republican wave that saw Republican challenger Morgan Griffith attack him on one of his long time strengths: Coal.

– Commercial real estate boom and bust at Smith Mountain Lake.

– I had the honor covering the life story of Army Sgt. TJ Conrad, who was killed in Afghanistan.

– Maybe the craziest story I’ve written was about the long lost 1913 Liberty Head nickel that belonged to Roanoke collector George Walton and went missing after his death. Here’s the story I wrote about it. And here’s the incredible story of what happened next (scroll down to the image of the Walton nickel and start reading there).

Thanks to everyone who’s worked with me over my time as a journalist, whether as a co-worker, a source or a friend.

It’s been a wild ride and one that I’ll always hold close to my heart.