By Devlyn Brooks
WADENA, Minn. – For Heather Bullock, working for a community newspaper means much more than just the effort to get the news out to local folks each week.
For this recently hired editorial clerk whose had a lifelong passion for writing, working at a community newspaper means actively looking out for her community’s best interests, including the health and wellbeing of all of the Wadena Pioneer Journal’s readers.
It’s this concern that pushed Bullock into action three weeks ago when she sensed that a reader needed help, and now that reader is grateful that a person like Bullock works at the WPJ.
As part of her clerking duties, Bullock monitors the Pioneer Journal’s Facebook page. She does this to interact with users who comment on the page and also to check for ideas that may make good stories for the paper. One morning about three weeks ago, she was perusing the Facebook page when she saw an alarming comment from a former Wadena resident who now lives in Fargo, N.D.
The post said, “Walking on Memorial Bridge. Feel like jumping.” Memorial Bridge is one of Fargo-Moorhead’s main connecting points over the Red River, and it is a long drop to a big river. The post, Bullock said, chilled her. Fargo-Moorhead is about 90 miles northwest of Wadena.
Bullock said she saw the comment about 12 hours after the woman posted it, and Bullock worried about the time that had passed. Regardless, she clicked on the person’s Facebook profile and saw they had posted several previous comments about feeling depressed, feeling unwanted and feeling that she couldn’t turn to her family.
Bullock said she felt compelled to act, immediately taking the matter to General Manager Cordell Schott, whom at the time was in a closed-door meeting. She interrupted the meeting, explained the circumstances and Schott told Bullock to act on her instinct.
She then called the Fargo Police Department, explained the matter to them and waited to hear back. The police also took the matter seriously and followed up with the person via a phone number that Bullock had retrieved from the woman’s Facebook profile. The police found that the woman was indeed in need of help.
Bullock knows all of this because several hours after she acted, the woman was on the WPJ Facebook page again, and this time she posted a “shoutout” to paper for caring about her and having the police check on her.
Since that morning, Bullock said the woman has occasionally posted comments on the WPJ Facebook page, and Bullock has taken to checking in on the woman’s own Facebook page.
“I kind of keep an eye on her Facebook posts, and it seems she’s feeling better. Her posts seem more upbeat and more positive,” Bullock said. “I didn’t expect that I’d ever hear from anyone about it so it’s kind of nice to know she’s doing OK and doing better.”
Schott said that he is proud of Bullock’s actions. He said it’s employees and their commitment to the community that make the paper more valuable to the community.
“Bottom line: Anytime you hear that someone is going to hurt someone or themselves, you have to take action,” Schott said. “You never know what the outcome is going to be, and in this case it was positive. Who knows, the situation may have saved a life. If she wouldn’t have done it, it could have been a different outcome.”
Bullock, a single mom of three who started at the paper only a little more than a month ago, attributes her action to her training as a teacher. Before moving from Alaska to Wadena in 2010 she obtain a teaching license and she had been serving as a substitute teacher before taking the full-time job with the Pioneer Journal.
In the course of obtaining her teaching license, Bullock had to go through training as a “mandatory reporter,” meaning that if she witnessed anything that might be a cause of concern about someone’s well being, she is obligated to report it to authorities.
“During my training to become a teacher, we were told to look out for stuff like that, take it seriously,” she said. “You never know if it’s someone blowing off steam or it it’s a true call for help. And you know, as a mother, if that were my child, I would want someone to care.”
Schott, who himself just recently joined the WPJ staff as general manager, says Bullock is being modest.
“It’s professionalism; it’s caring; it’s not leaving things to doubt,” Schott said. “It just speaks a lot about her. It really does.”
And praise came from even higher up in the company too.
After a recent visit at the WPJ office, Bill Marcil Jr., who is set to take over leadership of Forum Communications Co. next year, wrote about Bullock’s story in an email to the entire company.
“Way to go Heather,” he wrote. “Every day our company has the power to transform lives and shape community, a reminder that it is not our products that do this. … It’s our people.”
Bullock said she applied for her job at the Pioneer Journal because she wasn’t finding work as a full-time teacher. She said she has always enjoyed writing and editing and thought the job would be an interesting fit for her.
Apparently it was a good fit and Bullock exemplifies the many FCC employees who are dedicated not only to their newspapers, but also to their communities.
“I really enjoy my coworkers a lot. It’s a very nice team atmosphere here,” Bullock said. “There’s a feeling of a small town, everyone looks out for everyone. Working here makes me feel good, makes me feel like a part of this team and part of this community.”
The Wadena Pioneer Journal is owned by Forum Communications Co. Forum Communications is a multimedia information company based in Fargo, and owns dozens of newspapers, websites and television and radio stations, and commercial printing plants in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.