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Focusing on local community was an honor and privilege

Nikki Carlson

I remember the day I trekked across the Midwest 1,700 miles to start working as the ag reporter and photographer for the Havre Daily News. I had a garage sale in my home in Shenandoah, Iowa, to sell everything I could to get gas money to get up here to Havre. What I couldn't sell, I gave away or left behind. I loaded up what I could into my 1985 Crown Victoria, said goodbye to my family and began my journey to Montana. It was smooth sailing for the most part.

When I had arrived in central North Dakota, the roads were packed with ice. My rear-wheel-drive boat of a car didn't handle slick roads well. I thought to myself as I drove white-knuckled through the ice-packed roads in the middle of May, "What am I getting myself into?"

Back home people said Montana is a beautiful state, but it gets terribly cold. They were right on both accounts. In Iowa, spring weather hits in March or April. In Montana we're lucky if the snow quits falling in May. So to say the least, I was surprised to encounter icy roads in mid-May.

The drive was beautiful and long. Another difference that I couldn't help but notice between the large state of Montana versus the tiny state of Iowa was that once you reach Montana the long stretch of highway is mainly what you see as you pass towns that are very spread out from each other. In Iowa, you will reach another town in at least 15 minutes. I crossed my fingers hoping that I wouldn't run out of gas while trying to get to the next town.

As I entered Havre, I thought, "Wow ... this place is huge!"

Well, comparing it to my hometown — Sidney, Iowa — Havre is more than quadruple it's size. I got lost trying to find the Havre Daily News on my first day of work because I got confused with the avenue numbers being the same as the street numbers. But after a quick phone call to my editor at the time, I arrived at the newspaper office for the first day of the next seven years of calling Havre my home.

As an ag reporter, I felt a little overwhelmed and naive because I didn't know much about wheat. Let's face it, I'm from corn country. The photography, however, came quite naturally to me because it's my passion.

In early 2006, I assumed the role as the Havre Daily News' full-time photojournalist to capture as much as I could going on in the community and surrounding area. In that time, I have photographed anything from people to sports. I have been there during some of the sad and terrible events in people's lives, and I have been there during some of the triumphant and joyous moments too. I've gotten to know a lot of people in the area.

But it is with a sad heart that I must, for now, put down my camera as a photojournalist for the newspaper. Since I have decided to call Havre home, I will not be leaving the town that I've grown to love.

I have accepted a custodial job at Montana State University-Northern and will begin that job Wednesday. It wasn't an easy decision, but a scary one. Not only is it a career change, but a personal one. My future plans could include going back to school to get either a master's degree or another bachelor's in a different field. The possibilities are endless, and I welcome the new adventure that I'll be taking.

I strongly believe that a person is never too old to learn. My nearly-blind great-grandmother was in her 80s when she went back to school to earn her GED, and my mother was in her late-40s when she began taking college courses. So it's never too late to gain more knowledge and skills. My goal is to be a more well-rounded individual who has other talents besides photography.

I remember when I first started at the Havre Daily News as a 24-year-old. I had no family in the state, and I didn't know a single soul here. At first, people didn't think I worked for the newspaper because I didn't have a business card or a press pass, and the fact that I looked like I was 16, or so I was told, probably didn't help. But eventually the community warmed up to me, and for the most part, welcomed my presence. There are those camera-shy people out there who still cringe when I show up with a camera around my neck, but they do it with a smile or a laugh.

Being a photojournalist is a rewarding job. I was able to meet many people who I wouldn't have been able to meet without a press badge — politicians, celebrities and other big-wigs. But what I enjoyed photographing the most was the "ordinary" folks, the average Joes, who live paycheck to paycheck, day by day. They are the ones who make up the majority of our country, and are the ones whom people relate to the most.

Journalism is a tough field to be in because, good or bad, news never stops. I've never enjoyed covering the bad moments or events in people's lives. But unfortunately, bad news is news too, and much like life we have to live through the bad times in order to know the good times. It's through the rough times that people can grow and unite together to heal and gain understanding for how precious life really is. I hope that my work here at the Havre Daily News has influenced or made a difference is someone's life.

The Havre Daily News is the heart of the Hi-Line. Information pumps in to the office daily, and it's the journalists' job to relay that information to the public. It may be a smaller newspaper with a small staff, but it's because of the dedicated employees and the readers that it exists. While newspapers across the country were shutting their doors or downsizing during the economic downfall, the Havre Daily News continued circulating to readers' homes. Ever hear of the saying, "Small but mighty?" Well that's the Havre Daily News.

Even my mother has been impressed with the newspaper that we put out on a daily basis. She is from a community in Nebraska not that much smaller than Havre, and she has been impressed with the local, state and national news that we provide to our readers. Last summer, my family in the Midwest went through an awful flood from the Missouri River. Businesses, fields and homes, including my grandmother's, were lost or nearly lost. Highways and roads were washed out. My mother grabbed a few issues of the Havre Daily News while visiting me last summer and found numerous articles about the flooding. She took them back home with her because the Havre Daily News had more stories about the flooding than her own hometown newspaper had, and that's where the flooding occurred.

Since I've been here, the newspaper has continued to get better and better. I hope that continues because without knowledge, how can we grow as a society or community? The Havre Daily News is a vital resource to Havre and the community should treasure it.

I want to thank the Havre Daily News for giving this Iowa farm girl the opportunity to grow and be creative and for taking a chance on me when bigger newspapers across the country wouldn't. I have learned a lot working here, and it has opened new doors for me. I have become a better artist because of my experience here. Photography means to paint or write with light. I like being referred to as a light writer.

A big thank-you goes out to Havre for allowing me to photograph you for all of these years. I can't do my job without the community and the people in it. All of the people I've photographed have allowed me a glimpse into their lives. What an amazing opportunity to get to know my neighbors. I'm taking away with me many memories.

It's now time to put this chapter of my life on pause as I open a new one. But you never know, maybe this won't be the last time you see me with a camera around my neck. Perhaps during this chapter the camera shy people won't run in the other direction when they see me.

(Nikki Carlson is a photojournalist for the Havre Daily News, at least until Tuesday. She can be reached at [email protected] until then.)


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