Nick Reding talks to Medill freshman class

Julianna Nunez

Northwestern alumnus Nick Reding, author of “Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town”, encouraged Medill students to pursue their own interests, no matter what challenges they face, in an address on Sunday.

“If you are really compelled to do something, if you cannot instinctively remove your desire to do something, that’s a good thing,” Reding told students.

Reding, Weinberg ‘94, spoke at the McCormick Tribune Center to the Medill freshman class. He reflected on his sometimes difficult experiences as an author and journalist. Reding, who studied creative writing at NU, did not have a very easy time getting his book approved. His editor wanted a crime story, but that was not what Reding wanted to write about. The idea for “Methland” was rejected four times before Reding was allowed to write it.

Medill faculty assigned Reding’s book as required summer reading for the freshmen. The story chronicled the history of Oelwein, Iowa, a town ravaged by the use of crystal meth. Reding spent years in the town, interviewing citizens to understand the full scope of the epidemic.

Reding’s lecture inspired the Medill freshmen to give their own accounts of their hometowns and how drugs have affected it. A handful of students in the audience said they were from Iowa, but only one said he knew of the meth problem.

Medill freshman Ashley Powell said she enjoyed the lecture even though she wasn’t one of the students from Iowa.

“(It) was pretty exciting to see how regular people can write about such things,” Powell said. “I wish he would have elaborated more on the rewards of writing such a story. I think he is a real crusader for meth addicts in Oelwein. You cannot just write them off as meth addicts. It was the economic situation that did that to them.”

Michele Bitoun, assistant professor and senior director of undergraduate education and teaching excellence, helped organize the event. She said she approved of the way Reding was able to relate to the students.

“Nick talked about his challenges and difficulties, which is good for our students to hear,” Bitoun said. “The part where he talked about empathizing with people he wrote about was really good for students to hear. So often students hear that journalists are objective and keep a distance from people they are writing about. You need to listen and understand where people are coming from.”

Reding still keeps in touch with some of the people he intevierwed. He has started a family since the book’s publication and said he is now less willing to travel for the sake of interviewing and investigating. Still, Reding said he will continue writing, but this time about a less specific location. His next project will focus on what the Midwest will look like in about 40 years.

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