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📰 It's been good.
But even good things come to an end.
March 17, 2021 | Letter No. 41
This letter and its 40 predecessors have been an experiment in how voice, transparency, and accountability could be foundational in writing about our town. I aimed from the get-go to write a letter to Johnson County—not in the “voice from nowhere”— but a voice from right here.
And there are some pieces of writing here that I’m really fond of:
⛈️A Storm named Derecho - A history of how even the 2020 derecho storm has an Iowa Connection.
📸 Ethics of covering a protest - A manifesto as I tried to put to paper my own framework for balancing harm with the importance of documenting the 2020 summer protests.
🗞️ A Ghost in Muscatine - An elegy for the newspaper I started at here in Iowa.
⚫️ 'Mom. The ditch is on fire.' - A Sunday read sewing together some reporting on a homicide case in Kellogg, Iowa and the questions it left about justice.
After half a year of experimenting, I think I am most proud of the writing and space this newsletter created for thinking on the page. This was for me a departure from the contextless-ness of Twitter and the dogma of daily news writing. While chatty and at times over-the-top, I think there is a need for local people thinking about this place. And there was a hunger for it.
Half a year in, the newsletter was going to just under 250 emails, all of whom got word of it through Twitter and word of mouth. 15 people even decided to fund the work, a kind and sustaining gesture for work they want to see in the world.
But while this has been an exciting platform to think through these times in our town, it is also a great deal of work to make something worth reading twice a week. The reporting, the essays were a labor of love that took a lot out of me.
At the end of the month, I’ll be 27. I am five years into a career of writing about the ideas and communities I care about. If I’m going to make it doing this for five more years, I need this to be sustainable.
For this reason, this morning’s letter is my last. I appreciate the interest and excitement for the work, and I hope to see more of it in the world.
Your friendly neighborhood reporter,
Zachary Oren Smith
A note for paid subscribers
For over five years, I’ve heard people talk about how this or that was part of their decision to subscribe to the outlets I’ve worked for. But these numbers have always been elusive. Sure the analytics may say a reader subscribed after reading my article, but was it really this one article or was it the staff? Was it reputation for good work or just a lucky day? Was it the institution? Or the story’s subject? How much can you really leave at the foot of the writer?
I still remember sitting on my couch and getting that first notification that someone signed up for a monthly subscription. That something I brought from idea to conception was worth funding. That continues to bring me a deep sense of joy. You showed up and supported local writing about local places. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
Later today, you’ll get a notification about a pro-rated refund. Because you were kind enough to trust me, I want to make sure there is no hitch on getting that refund extended.
As always, email me with any questions you have.