This week’s Q&A is with editor of the Southwest Times in Pulaski County, David Gravely.
David tells us how an accident transformed his life and, in some ways, got him involved with the paper, what working at a local paper awards him on a personal level, his time in the service, his family at work and at home plus more.
Please introduce yourself.
David Gravely, editor at the Southwest Times. I was born and raised in Pulaski County. Despite the many economic and social changes to the area since I was born in 1969, I still think Pulaski County is one of the greatest places in the world to live.
I graduated from Pulaski County High School as a member of the Class of 1987. Two weeks later I was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, going through Army basic training to become a Combat Engineer. I was offered other more technical jobs like linguist and signal intelligence operator, but I wanted to join the military for the adventure. One look at the video of guys working with explosive and landmines and jumping out of airplanes was all it took.
I spent over 11 years in the Army. I was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, for five years and Fort Bragg for another five. I was deployed several times to places all over the world. I actually missed my wedding date thanks to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. My final duty station was as a recruiter, which I did not enjoy. After begging to go back to a line unit and being told I couldn’t, I made the tough choice to leave the job I loved.
Nine months after leaving the Army, June 14, 1999, I was injured in an accident at the old New River Castings foundry in Radford. I was crushed inside of a core machine, breaking my back in several places. It also broke all of my ribs on one side, punctured my lungs with those ribs and crushed my skull. I actually died several times the first few hours after the accident, but good doctors and a greater God kept me here.
After my accident, I had the daunting task of learning to walk again. Obviously, the accident changed the entire direction of my life. The brash young paratrooper who was ten feet tall and bulletproof was gone, replaced by a 29-year old man who couldn’t walk. A lot of my fine motor skills had to be relearned and doing simple day-to-day tasks were difficult.
How did you get involved with the Southwest Times?
During my recovery I had the chance to take a few pictures of my oldest daughter while she was a cheerleader for a local rec league team. I had gotten into photography while in the Army. One of my jobs while stationed at Fort Bragg in a staff position was Battalion Recon NCO and a side job of that was to be the battalion photographer. I had the chance to do those jobs when we deployed to Haiti as a part of Operation Uphold Democracy. Some of the photos I have from that deployment were really good and are now in the 27th Engineer Battalion history book.
After football season I bought a better camera. It was the original Canon Digital Rebel and was a whopping 6.3 megapixels. I shot with that camera and the regular kit lens for almost six years before finally upgrading to a better one and a good lens.
Dave Bissett was the Sports Editor at the Southwest Times at that time. I was taking pics at the Cougar basketball games and printing them at home for the players. He saw some and asked if he could use them with his game stories. I said sure. Two weeks later he gave me a press pass so I could get into the games free. I thought that was the greatest thing ever.
When spring rolled around, he asked if I could write. I told him I wasn’t sure. He said I’d be fine and had me cover some of the spring sports at the high school. After that I covered the Pulaski Minor League Baseball team, which at the time was the Pulaski Blue Jays and then moved on to fall sports at the high school.
By 2005, I was covering all sports in the county on a regular basis. Much to my delight, I started to receive pay for this service around that time as well. In April 2012 I was asked to take over as the sports editor here at The Southwest Times. Two years ago, August 2017, myself and Vanessa Repass became the leadership team here at the Times. I handle the editorial side and she handles advertising and management.
It sounds like the newspaper entered your life at a critical point. Did you ever see yourself working for a paper and are you happy it ended up that way?
I was never a “desk type” growing up, I’ve always been more into the physical type things. Like I said, I could have gone with a desk job, or at least a non-combat arms job in the Army, but I wanted that adventure.
Photography and writing were always something I had enjoyed but I never considered it something I would end up doing as a career. Looking back, being in the newspaper business has afforded me so many opportunities and adventures I wouldn’t have otherwise had. The fact that I have been able to turn the negativity of my accident into a positive for not only myself but also for our community is something I am very happy with.
The Southwest Times team has become another family for me. The people we cover and report on are in many cases an extended family as well. When I first started this, I was covering the kids of people I went to school with. Now I’m doing photos and stories on their grandchildren. Running a small, local newspaper has its challenges, but it also has many rewards.
What does working at the Times give you on a personal level?
I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job. While there are times when we have to report the bad news, it also gives me a platform to help promote Pulaski County. I also have a special place in my heart for young people. Being able to watch the students go from preschool through graduation and then move on to the next phases of their lives has been bittersweet at times, but seeing them become the future leaders and workers of our community is a blessing. You never know how a young person is going to turn out. Some of the roughest ones I remember are now teaching, coaching, working as first responders or are serving our country in the military. A few have already moved into leadership positions in our local government. As a history buff, it’s also very satisfying to know that I’m a part of something that has been around longer than me.
A few years ago we celebrated our 110 year anniversary at The Southwest Times. I remember looking through the paper after my dad on Sunday mornings when I was a young child. He’s gone now, but those memories aren’t. Like a lot of people I still have newspaper clippings about myself, friends and family from throughout the years. This newspaper covered me through my years as an athlete in Pulaski County, my time in the military and when my accident happened. To be able to give back, even if it’s just in a small way, to that cause is very rewarding.
“This newspaper covered me through my years as an athlete in Pulaski County, my time in the military and when my accident happened. To be able to give back, even if it’s just in a small way, to that cause is very rewarding.”
Do you think local newspapers are in a unique position in their ability to document an entire life, from birth to death?
I believe that while some larger newspapers may be having issues, smaller and local newspapers that focus on their hometown will always have a place. You can go on the internet and find out anything you want to know about the national scene, but normally the local news is only out there if the local paper covers it.
Larger regional papers have a great platform, but they can’t be at every town council, board of supervisors or school board meeting for every town or city in their coverage area. They may get a good story here and there, but it’s going to be tougher for them to build that personal relationship with the community that a smaller newspaper can have. We live here, we grew up here and we know the people. When we lose a member of the community, we grieve with the community. We feel that hurt and loss. Our readers see us out and about in town. We go to church together and celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other good times with them. With the higher rate of turnover at bigger newspapers, they can’t always build that relationship the way we can. The people we are covering have known us since we were younger kids, as well. In a photo album at home, I have the newspaper birth announcement from 1969 when I was born. One day my children will have that book and it will include my obituary. That’s just one reason why hometown newspapers are so important.
What’s life outside of newspapering like for you?
I enjoy time outdoors. I love to fish and hunt, especially love archery hunting. I recently bought a kayak and have gotten into fishing from that at the lake and river. We spend a lot of time with our granddaughter and are anxious to meet our new grandson in October. My wife and I are both pretty active with our church. I help them with social media, video work, photos. My wife is into crafts and stuff, which they use with some of our special events. We like trying out new places to eat, especially if it involves driving away from home for the day. As I get older, I’m starting to enjoy naps more.
My wife, Michelle, and I have been married for nine years. We have four children, two of which, Chelsea and Tyler, are now on active duty and are currently deployed. Oddly, next month they will both be stationed at the same place, Fort Bragg, where they were both born. Our other two are still in Pulaski County. Ashleigh is a nurse and recently married. Andrew is in college. We have one granddaughter and a grandson due at the end of October. We recently found out it will be a boy.
You’ve been through a lot and come out the other side. What has been the driving force in wanting to stay working in the industry?
Two things keep me going: the kids and the community. When I got out of the Army I could have moved anywhere. I moved back to Pulaski County because I truly love this place. I’ve lived or deployed all over the world and no place feels like Pulaski County. The other thing is the kids. When I first started back in photography, I printed the pictures at home and just gave them to the kids at the next game. One night a young guy was looking over the players’ shoulders. He was around seven or so. He looked at me and said, “I want you to take my pictures like that.” I told him that if he stayed out of trouble, kept his grades up and stayed in sports I would. That young player brought me his report card every nine weeks so I knew he was doing what I asked. If my going to games, eating a hotdog and taking a few pictures can motivate a student to do even a little better in the classroom, that’s my responsibility to make sure I do that.