WKU journalism students and the public were invited to learn about globalization's impact on communities and their stories, from professional journalists as a part of the Gaines Family Lecture Series on Wednesday night.
New York Times bestselling author Beth Macy and award-winning photographer Jared Soares told of their experience chronicling the economic hardship Martinsville, Virginia, in a lecture titled “Outsiders and Underdogs: Telling the Untold Stories of Globalization’s Aftermath”. During the lecture, Macy and Soares also shared advice with the students on covering issues in their community and connecting with people they are trying to cover.
“Being a journalist is like being paid to get a graduate degree in whatever your interest is,” Macy said. “Cast your net as wide as you can. Get on the ground, and talk to strangers.”
Macy's newest book, “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town”, is the culmination of her research into free-trade practices and the effects they have had on manufacturing communities like Martinsville. According to her website, intrepidpapergirl.com, Macy has received bestseller status in the Wall Street Journal business book list and the New York Times, as well as being mentioned on Twitter by Tom Hanks.
“Great summer reading. I give it 42 stars. No, I give it 142 stars. Yeah, it’s THAT good,” said Hanks, who is reportedly an executive producer on the HBO miniseries adaption of “Factory Man”, according to Deadline.com.
Macy and Soares worked together at the Roanoke Times in Virgina before they collaborating on the three-part editorial series that inspired Macy's book. In 2010, Soares had left the Times and began to work as a free-lance photographer, taking on commercial work as well as editorial projects around Virginia and the D.C. area. He said it was during this time that he started to explore the community of Martinsville, and learned more about the issues it faced from off-shoring and globalization.
Soares showed some of the photos from his trips around Martinsville and told the stories of the people struggling to cope as their town died economically. He talked about overcoming being an outsider in the tight-knit community by walking through the town and taking an interest in the lives of the residents that talked to him. He stressed the importance of connecting with people and experiencing what it means to live in their town.
“Most of what I do is relationship based,” Soares said. “When you're working as a free-lancer, you're on an island. No one is helping you. You have to rely on the people you meet to lead you to the moments.”
Soares said he continued to document life in Martinsville without a plan or story in mind until he contacted his old friend from the Roanoke Times, Beth Macy. He showed a photo of the bar “Lucky” where the two met to discuss what Soares had found in Martinsville, and inadvertently started the project that would lead to “Factory Man”.
One of the people mentioned in “Factory Man”, Thomas Harned of Russellville, was in attendance at the lecture and thanked Macy for her coverage of the turmoil in Martinsville. Harned is now the executive director for economic development in Logan County, and was executive director for Martinsville during the events mentioned in the book. In “Factory Man”, he is mentioned as dumbstruck Harned that was caught in the middle of an outrageous bidding feud between furniture magnate John Bassett and his brother-in-law. According to Harned and Macy's book, the Bassett Family was known as an eccentric but essential entity in the economy of Martinsville.
“Beth's accounts are accurate regarding the family dynamics in that large, wealthy family,” Harned said. “It's almost like a soap opera. You were always in the middle of something. If you weren't in the middle, then you weren't participating.”
Harned experienced how the out-sourcing of an industry can destroy a town, and is working to prevent the same situation in Logan County.
“The best thing you can do is work hard for diversification, and not have all your eggs in one basket,” Harned said. “If you're in a one horse town and the horse dies, you're in real trouble.”
The problems of outsourcing are not just solely felt in towns dependent on textiles and furniture like Martinsville. WKU freshman, Helen Gibson of Cadiz, Kentucky who attended the lecture, said she couldn't help but to be reminded of her own hometown when she saw Soares' photos of Martinsville.
“There was a factory in our home town called Johnson Controls that employed a lot of people,” Gibson said. “When they went out of business we saw a lot of the same issues that they talked about. It was easy to connect with what was going on.”
The 11th annual Gaines Family Lecture series, which was moved to 3 p.m. due to snow, was also attended by members of the Gaines family. The series is possible due to a grant from the family of John B. Gaines, founder of the “Daily News”, and is hosted by the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting. Guests for the lecture series are picked every year by an organizing committee of professors in the different departments of the School of Journalism.
Professor Josh Meltzer, head of this year's lecture committee and former co-worker of both Macy and Soares at the Roanoke Times, started the lecture by introducing the guests and encouraging students to learn from their teamwork.
“Collaboration is the name of the game in journalism now,” Meltzer said. “It's important to respect what we all do in journalism because we are all journalists whether its visual or in print.”
Macy ended the lecture with a challenge for WKU's journalism students to look deeper into their own communities for the stories and issues that are important.
“There is always an interesting story nearby if you just dig for it,” Macy said. “Usually, if you can't find a good story, it's because you haven't dug deep enough yet.”