Four years ago this month, I started a news-sharing service with 11 New Mexico newspapers. The newspaper you’re reading this in was one of those founders.
Four years ago, I had just ventured out as a media entrepreneur, and this new exchange was my first big project as a self-employed freelancer. I named it the Community News Exchange, or CNEx for short, and turned it into a weekly service, where every participating newspaper contributed to and received stories and photos from throughout the state.
You could say it was a homegrown “wire service” for small-town newspapers and, four years later, it still is.
Behind the scenes, CNEx has evolved into a weekly weekend chore either for me or for someone I hire to download, edit and transmit content to the service’s subscribers. My latest top-notch copy editor is Misty Choy, who takes over on the weekends I want off, and through the years I’ve had a lot of help in keeping this service running.
For two years, I played media entrepreneur, until I found myself looking over a cliff and not wanting to hit bottom. So I again tied myself to payroll work and a steady paycheck, at Taos for a few months and then Roswell for the past two years.
Now, I’m untied again, not exactly unemployed, but underemployed—since I still have CNEx.
New Mexico was in a severe drought at the time I started CNEx. I saw it firsthand, in long drives across the state, while drumming up support for the news service and its launches in May 2013.
Here’s how I reported on the drought during that first week in which CNEx was launched:
“… it is worse than a 50-year event. John Longworth (chief of the Water Use and Conservation Bureau for the State Engineer’s Office) said this drought is widely believed to have started around April 2010, but the last two years have been particularly harsh. According to a February report, 2011-12 was the driest—and hottest—two-year period on record for New Mexico.”
Off and on through the ensuing years, I’ve written about New Mexico and its weather, referring often to our changing climate. Columns about climate change have brought me kudos from northern New Mexico tree huggers and condemnations from southeastern New Mexico rednecks. The weather, it seems, is a controversial issue.
Four years ago, along with CNEx, I created this statewide column. I call it Dispatch New Mexico, and I send it out every week, along with the rest of our CNEx content.
My column is part analysis and part opinion. And occasionally, like now, I get personal. Like CNEx, through the years it’s become a weekly labor of love for me. I like to speak to the issues facing us all.
I always try to make this column pertinent to Small Town New Mexico—after all, that’s my main audience these days—but sometimes I take on national issues instead. Sometimes I find myself writing more as an American than as a New Mexican.
Some would say that’s how I shoot myself in the foot, by doing things like criticizing Donald Trump in the heart of Trump-loving country. But good opinion writing doesn’t have to represent the majority opinion, so I don’t worry too much about that.
I believe the press should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” as it’s been said, and going along to get along isn’t the way to do that. Standing on conviction, not bending to the prevailing opinion, is what earns respect.
Through CNEx, we see the diversity of our New Mexico landscape. Our news stories highlight the many issues facing small towns all over the state, while features and photographs give us a snapshot of life in all its many forms. And the opinion pieces we collect and distribute represent a wide range of viewpoints, more voices to add to the community mix.
Each week, CNEx offers a glimpse into life in New Mexico. I like that very much. I think I’ll stick with it.
Tom McDonald is editor and founder of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and owner-manager of Gazette Media Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.