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Here’s a personal take on a year of newsy columns

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By Tom McDonald

When thinking back on 2015, it’s hard not to get personal. It was a significant year for me as well as for the rest of the world.

I’ve been writing this column since May 2013. I call it Dispatch New Mexico, though your local newspaper editor might call it something else: “filler” is one word that comes to mind; “brilliant insight” far less often. I started writing it at the same time I launched a statewide news service named the Community News Exchange, or CNEx, which serves mainly small-town newspapers around the state.

At the time, CNEx and this column seemed like good ways to carve out a unique niche for myself in New Mexico journalism. Nowadays, they’re more like labors of love, as they’ve made me neither rich nor famous. But they’ve expanded my “voice” in the profession and state I call home, so I’m not complaining.

For me, 2015 began with two big life events involving a mutt and a move. In January I wrote about how, just days before Christmas 2014, my dog was killed by a hit-and-run driver while we were on an early morning walk around my Las Vegas neighborhood. My heartfelt words resonated with a lot of people, including a few of my new co-workers as I went to work for The Taos News some 70 miles north of Las Vegas. Seems there’s nothing quite like the love that pets bring into homes across New Mexico — and beyond.

Meanwhile, the legislative session was cranking up in Santa Fe, and while my new job prevented me from attending much of it (which I’d done a year earlier, covering the session for several newspapers around the state), I still found plenty of fodder to write about.

Catching my attention first was right-to-work legislation and efforts to increase the state’s minimum wage, neither of which passed. I also highlighted Think New Mexico’s effort to bring transparency into health-care pricing and quality-of-care data, which did pass after some compromises were made.

At the end of the session, I opined on Gov. Susana Martinez’s failures at accomplishing much of anything during the session, as well as a few “products from an unproductive session.” The legislature’s failure to pass a capital budget bill by the close of the regular session was the most glaring example of a failed session in a year filled with political turmoil.
Just the mention of hemp — a bill was passed to allow the growing of industrial hemp in New Mexico — blossomed into a full-blown piece after a reader in Canada sent me background on the issue that reaches all the way back to our Founding Fathers. Like the efforts to legalize recreational marijuana, the hemp issue isn’t likely to go anywhere as long as Martinez is governor, since she’s adamantly opposed to just about anything related to marijuana. After the session, she vetoed the industrial hemp bill.

My time in Taos was cut short when I was offered a job at the Roswell Daily Record, and in May, I headed for a very different region of New Mexico. I wrote a compare-and-contrast piece about the three towns I’ve become most familiar with — Las Vegas, Taos and Roswell — which generated readers’ comments that mostly revolved around their own community preferences.

Throughout the year, my writings mainly centered on issues that shaped 2015 at the local, state, national and international levels. Columns about the pressures on law enforcement, fights over oil-and-gas extraction, and what to do about predators in the wilds, rural homelessness, same-sex marriages, mass shootings, political skirmishes over pot grows and changing weather patterns — often based on local reports from newspapers that subscribe and contribute to CNEx — all generated pointed feedback from readers.

These and other issues, to my way of thinking, were the sights and sounds of the year in New Mexico — along with the ways in which we simply had fun. I just had to write about Roswell’s UFO festival last summer, since it was my first one I’d attended  and because it’s unique, but it certainly wasn’t the only thing that lifted New Mexicans’ spirits in 2015.

Recently I wrote a light-hearted column about sayings we’ve come up with over the years, but it apparently fell woefully short as readers gave me countless other clever expressions they’d heard over the year and that I had failed to mention.
The great thing about a column like this is the feedback one receives. You learn from people’s reactions what’s important to them. So bring on more in 2016!

Happy New Year, dear readers. I hope it’s filled with lots of good news for you and yours.

Tom McDonald has settled in as editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com and tmcdonald@rdrnews.com.