Stories. As a newspaper reporter, I deal with a wide variety of them. Whether it's an article about a city council meeting or a biography on a person with a unique hobby, I'm always trying to get the "scoop" for the success of the newspaper, but at the core of each story is something more important. That something revolves around the fact that in every single story that I write, the main characters are actually real! There is no fiction. The people I interview, email and call are real! So why am I making a big deal about this?

When I was still in elementary school in Little Falls, Minn., my family received a weekly newspaper much like most of you who are reading this column. I enjoyed reading it for various reasons. My local newspaper ran two comic strips, the names of which I have since forgotten, that were on the same page as the TV program listings. It was perfect because I could eagerly scan the listings for my favorite shows, while also being entertained by the comics. There was a political cartoon on the same page that I glanced at, but never understood (why are donkeys and elephants wearing suits and fighting each other?). In addition, I also checked out the sports page because even though I didn't play too many sports in my school days, I liked following sports and sometimes I saw my friends' names in the box scores, which I thought was so cool!

As for the rest of the newspaper, the stories were interesting to read sometimes, but I never fully grasped the reality of the people in those articles. At that time to me, they were just more fictional characters in a tale that was told in small type and boring column structures. Plus, none of the stories ever dealt with magic wands, dragons or mysteries. Why should I bother reading anything that didn't have any of those elements?

Once I was in middle school my opinion towards newspapers changed a little. I still didn't read from them much because I was still into magic wands, dragons and mysteries, but I had discovered that I thought I looked very distinguished if I was caught looking at a newspaper. If my parents and I were in the waiting room at the dentist or eye doctor, I would most often pick up a newspaper and pretend to expertly look through it. Of course, my attention would eventually be diverted to the comics page where I would read everything except Doonesbury. If I really felt like looking good, I would grab Time Magazine and stay as far away from the Highlights magazine as possible. Overall, I started reading more of the articles in the boring-column-small-type style even though they weren't my preference.

Writing has always been something I enjoyed; I wrote for Fillmore Central's school newspaper The Falcon Informer as a columnist and wrote whatever I wanted. Some of it was informative, some of it was entertaining, and some of it was weird. When an internship spot opened up at the News-Record in Harmony and Mabel the summer of my junior year, I went for it. I soon realized that writing for a newspaper was very different from what I had before understood. Attending meetings, driving to unknown interview locations and staring at a blank word document with a serious deadline looming were all new to me, but I survived and even did it the next summer.

Through it all, I have become more aware of the community I call home and of the people who make it a place where truly remarkable stories are created and lived. I have been a witness to stories about businesses, veterans' memories, and community celebrations. I have talked with farmers, lawyers, students, fathers and mothers. I have seen determination, happiness, sadness and love.

In the short time I've been writing, I have seen a lot, and for better or for worse, it has been a blessing. It's a blessing to be able to see the reality of people's interactions, relationships and life events and to have people willingly share those stories with me.

All this is what I didn't see when I was younger and even now I have just begun to more fully appreciate the opportunity to meet the people around me who have so many stories to tell.

Thank you for the stories and hats off to thee!