I’m leaving Wyoming.
Yep. The place I’ve made my home for the last three years or so. The place I discovered brilliant crimson sunsets, crisp golden mornings on the open prairie, and a taste of what freedom – if it truly existed – might look like. It’s a place I fell in love with, a place I already miss and know I will until I find my way back. (Whenever that is.)
It’s not for personal reasons. It’s for professional ones.
Earlier this month, I accepted a position covering state and federal politics at the Charleston Post & Courier, a publication widely considered in my industry to be among the best local newspapers in the United States. In the past decade, they’ve been nominated for five Pulitzer Prizes, winning one of them. And, with the 2024 Presidential Primary coming up, that same newspaper offered me an opportunity to cover the most important election in the country within one of the most dynamic places in all of U.S. politics. While Iowa gets all the credit, South Carolina – while a red state – is known the first test of the black vote for Democrats, a testing ground for new conservative strategies. Two potential presidential candidates hail from there, and its politics are steeped in a bitter legacy of segregation, sedition and its status as the beating heart of the bloody civil war that followed.
How could I say no?
When I left New York in 2018, I left out of a desire to learn something I’d never known, and to gain a greater understanding of a country I’d caught glimpses of but never truly experienced. While I’ve come to know and love the West, it feels time to set my sights down south and learn the nuances of a unique and complicated section of the country I’d never fully understood. It’s a happy and an exciting time for me, and I can’t wait to get started. But it’s also quite sad.
I fulfilled the three-year promise I made to myself I made when I came out here. But there’s also a part of me that will always remain here in Wyoming. I’ve made many friends around this state, yes, but the connections I’ve developed have been more profound than any I’ve ever experienced. I’ve spent countless hours travelling the plains and mountains of this state chronicling anger and discontent – that’s the nature of political journalism – but I’ve encountered so much more in my travels of this amazing state. I’ve shared sorrow with you, I’ve witnessed your fear, felt your joy and, like many of you, have flitted regularly between feelings of resignation and optimism that the future will one day be better, more unified, more just. To so many people across this country, Wyoming is just a place with beautiful mountains, a lot of guns, and a lot of dirt. But I will forever see its people.
Wyoming is going through a tough time right now. We’ve cut resources for mental health care in a state with one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. We’ve witnessed the rapid decline of the industries that made this state what it is. We write unenforceable feel-good measures for countless causes while balking to back an LGBTQ community that has clearly faced discrimination most of us will never know. We’ve continued to allow people to go without healthcare who need it most, and turned our noses at quantifiable inequities within our society, from gender-based pay gaps to the plights of Wyoming’s indigenous communities. And our politics – like the rest of the nation – are rife with vitriol, and seemingly no room for honest and earnest debate.
I’ve seen it. I’ve listened. And I know it’s true. And as Wyoming plays host to one of the highest profile campaigns in the nation, I’m worried it will get worse.
Worse yet is that the institutions that chronicle these changes are in serious trouble. As the state’s primary arbiters of information have cut back their spending, unreliable and downright biased sources have taken their place. Some of these websites have no names for their authors, fail to disclose sources. Some represent a single side of the issue and ignore another. Others make their way copying and pasting the words of the politicians without question or pushback, fashioning a cottage industry out of regurgitating propaganda, spreading chosen narratives further.
I’ve spoken to old-timers at the Casper Star-Tribune who would sell plasma to make ends meet. As former president of the CST Union, I can assure you nobody is selling plasma anymore. But things aren’t much better.
Their newsroom today is less than half the size of what it was when I arrived in 2018. The fifth-highest earning wage of $35,000 I was making out of the gate would now qualify as the highest paying editorial position at the newspaper, not including management or the sports desk. Some positions currently sit vacant because the pay cuts new recruits would take to leave their old jobs surpass their ability to absorb. The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle in Cheyenne recently turned over its entire staff after their parent company, Adams Publishing Group, refused to increase their working hours to 40 hours more than one year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. People just couldn’t afford to live anymore. At one point this summer, I counted a dozen vacant positions at Wyoming’s newspapers. Some of those positions had been occupied less than two years before they turned over. That’s not good for anyone. When you lose an employee, you don’t just lose a set of hands at a keyboard: you lose their knowledge, you lose their relationships, you lose their perspective and understanding. And the community suffers for it.
While I’ll miss Wyoming’s prairies and mountains more than anything, that understanding is the true reason it makes it hard to leave the state. So few of us are willing to stick around. As someone who truly loves this state, it feels like treachery to head for the door when tenure is more valuable than ever. Pay is a factor. Livability too. Nobody comes to Wyoming to live in a metropolis. But low wages and high-demand housing combine for a toxic brew. I will forever say it was a privilege to live in Wyoming. But it shouldn’t be, and that’s an issue much bigger than your local newspaper. It’s a question of a vitality, a question of whether community consists of its residents’ character or their bank account. If I am to write one more thing as a Wyomingite, it will be the truth.
I love this state, and while I’m saying goodbye for now, it won’t be forever. If you see an affordable parcel at the base of the Bighorns, please keep me in mind. You guys will always be in mine.
P.S. Pay for news.