Nearly eight years ago, I packed up my white 1998 Dodge Neon — held together with little more than duct tape and a prayer — as full as I could get it, and headed for the West Coast ... without a job or a permanent place to live, and not much more than $800 in my pocket. It was a literal move that was one of my biggest leaps of faith. 

I was fairly fresh out of college and longed for adventure, but a big part of me knew I would also long for home once I left. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed this time, this moment in my life, to become my own person. I cruised from freeway to freeway over several days, speeding past the Badlands of South Dakota, the open skies of Wyoming, through the strip of Las Vegas and past Death Valley — all without the luxury of air conditioning during the height of a hot July. When I finally landed at my destination of Ventura County, I was about as scared as you can get. The following two years proved to be some of the most difficult and challenging, but also rewarding and joyful years of my life. 

This week I write to you as I take another big leap of faith: taking over the position of editor for Ryan Howard, who finished his last day at The Forest Lake Times last week.

I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Ryan in college. During that time, I came to respect and admire Ryan’s work ethic and wisdom — his ability to keep calm in a storm, his ability to make smart journalistic decisions that kept governance accountable and provide insight and background to an intricate story, and his ability to string words so eloquently together in a touching feature. So when the opportunity to come aboard The Times working for Ryan was presented to me, I took it. Throughout that time, I’ve learned even more while watching Ryan. Most of you will never know the amount of time and dedication he put into this paper. It’s a profession that many journalists feel is a calling, and Ryan was as dedicated as they come. 

A little over three weeks ago, Ryan announced to the staff he’d taken a position working for a board game company, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I feel a little lost without him at the helm. Two weeks ago, I wrote about fear, and how it can be a powerful motivator — both good and bad. When Ryan told me of his plans to leave and his suggestion that I should apply for the editor position he’d be vacating, I distinctly remember telling him, “It’s scary.”

It is. It’s incredibly terrifying knowing the position you hold has a great deal of power to it. If you know Ryan, you know of his affinity for comic books — specifically, “Spider-Man” — so I believe he’d be proud of me as I reference the Peter Parker principle, which states, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

While I’m sure there will be times I make mistakes (as we all do), I hope you all will understand this is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Yet, the fear goes hand-in-hand with the excitement and passion I still have for this work.  

Two and a half years ago, when I began with The Times, I wrote an introductory column. In part, I wrote: “My job is a mission, a service to the community. My job is to hold up a mirror to what happens by asking the tough questions and reporting to you the facts you need to make an informed decision. ... A newspaper is not only responsible for reporting facts, but also for telling stories. They are stories that build empathy for one another, that encourage the reader and the subject. Stories help us share in our hopes and our dreams and our sorrows and losses. That’s what a newspaper does. It builds community.”

In my time here, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of this community by doing just that. The Forest Lake area (encompassing all five communities we cover) is filled with people who are doing exceptional things, people who care, and people who love their community, even when they sometimes disagree on how to accomplish bettering their community. The Forest Lake area is not perfect. No community is. But to everyone I’ve met in the Forest Lake area, you’ve both impressed me by your vigorous debate and engaged citizens and stolen my heart with your enthusiasm for your community, and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives as much as you’ve allowed. 

While I do have a new title, I still will be out and about, talking to people around the area for stories and snapping photos of local events. (I’m looking forward to covering my first official Forest Lake Fourth of July parade, as Ryan had previously handled coverage on that event.) If you see me, please introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you and get to know your story — and maybe share it with the community. After all, that is what I love most about this job: you. 

So here’s to a leap of faith in this next adventure of mine, the people I will meet, the stories I will tell, and the community we can build. I can’t wait. 

Hannah Davis is the news editor of the Forest Lake Times. She can be reached at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com.

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