Back in 2009, I was working in the Philadelphia bureau of The Associated Press. I’d been working there since 1998 following work as a reporter for daily newspapers in Ely, Nev.; New Ulm, Minn., and Pottstown, Pa.
I read about how Elizabethtown lost its longtime newspaper, the Elizabethtown Chronicle, because the company that owned it shut it down abruptly. I got in touch with some people in town about the possibility of starting a new weekly from scratch. They were extremely encouraging. It was clear that the town needed me — there aren’t a lot of people who had the journalism experience I had plus the determination needed to launch a new weekly and stick with it.
So I did it. I quit my job at the AP in January of 2010 and moved to Elizabethtown. The first issue of The Elizabethtown Advocate was published Feb. 4, 2010. I stuck with it for years, eventually building circulation up from zero to slightly more than 1,000 and turning a small profit.
In 2017, I signed a contract with Lancaster County Weeklies Inc. to sell the paper, as well as a three-year employment contract to remain the editor. Lancaster County Weeklies is part of Steinman Communications, the company that publishes LNP, the daily newspaper in Lancaster.
The company has treated me well since then. They’ve paid me what they promised and they’ve provided me with good benefits.
But it’s gotten to be tedious. I’m writing about the same things year after year. I told my boss that I wasn’t going to let the employment contract renew automatically. He made it clear that the company wanted to keep me and discussed possible new duties that could keep me engaged. It was flattering that the company wanted to keep me, but I was really interested in doing something completely different. After all, at the end of my employment contract, I will have been working full-time in journalism for 24 years straight.
In August, I applied to the Peace Corps after doing a lot of research. Rather than applying for a specific assignment, I chose the “serve where you are needed most” option, in which Peace Corps staffers look at your resume and determine which assignment is the best fit for you. They selected me for a program training elementary school teachers in The Gambia, a nation in western Africa surrounded by Senegal on the north, south and east and by the Pacific Ocean on the west.
This came as a surprise to me because I’ve never worked in an elementary school. But the placement specialist told me that things like how to plan lessons, promote positive classroom management and develop more effective use of the school library are all things they can teach me. I was selected because I’ve shown traits they can’t teach, such as the tenacity I showed while getting this newspaper started.
I’ve accepted the invitation. So as long as I pass the legal and medical clearances, I’ll be off to The Gambia in June of 2020. (I’m confident the legal clearance will be no problem; you never know what will come up in a medical clearance.) I told my boss that I wanted to work for a smooth transition, so I’m willing to stay a bit beyond the end of my employment contract, but I also need time to get my affairs in order. I plan to leave employment here sometime around the end of March or beginning of April.
It will be quite an adjustment for me. I’ve never spent an extended period without electricity and running water; I most likely will be without both in The Gambia. My main means of transportation will be by bicycle; I’m told to expect to ride about 10 kilometers a day. The Elizabethtown Advocate will keep going without me. We’re working for a transition that will keep most things going as they are. The big changes will be mostly in behind-the-scenes things like who lays out pages.
I’d like to thank the people of Elizabethtown and the surrounding area for the support they’ve shown over the past decade. The paper has grown from a circulation of zero to about 6,000 today, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the public’s support. It’s been quite an adventure. Now it’s time to start planning for the next adventure.
Dan Robrish, Editor