Departing Desert Exposure editor reflects on two decades of news


It’s going to be hard, acknowledged long-time reporter, photographer and editor Elva Österreich, to simply move on from journalism after more than two decades in the craft.

But she decided now was time to move on to a new chapter, leaving the Bulletin and its monthly magazine, Desert Exposure, on July 5.

Across a dozen newspapers and the shifting sands of southern New Mexico, perhaps no one in the industry has been as much of a consistent presence as Österreich. She’s had bylines in just about every newspaper from Ruidoso to Las Cruces to Socorro and beyond since she began writing news in 1998.

Österreich even wrote a book chronicling one of the pivotal moments in local (and world) history – the testing and denotation of the atomic bomb – called “Manhattan Project Trinity Test: Witnessing the Bomb in New Mexico.”

On her last day, Österreich sat down for an interview, this time on the other side of the recorder, to reflect on her time in the news.

What drew you to arts and culture reporting?

“My degree is in creative writing. And so it's always something that I wanted to do. Then, I started writing for this little local newsletter in Alamogordo. I started doing a column before that called ‘About the Critters,’ which was about the animals, and that’s how I ended up creating a feature on bugs.”

That bug feature, Osterreich said, was one of her first plunges into journalism.

“When the job came open, it just sounded like it was my job because talking to people, assembling things, taking photos, that's what I do.”

What is your favorite story you’ve told?

“I cannot think of any particular story, but there is the timeline (of stories) around Spaceport (America) because this whole space thing started in the first place at an event held at Holloman Air Force Base. I was there when they did that.”

When asked why the history of the spaceport was among her favorites, Osterreich said, “Because I’m a science fiction nerd. … The whole ‘new horizons, going into space, brand new world – it’s all that.”

You have been around the news in southern New Mexico for more than two decades. What kept you in the business?

“It's just been wonderful and fascinating. And there’s the whole feeling of the newsroom trying to get things done. It’s all been an exploration.

“When I got out of high school, I was worried that was it (when it came to learning new things.) You learn so much as a young person from the time you’re born until high school; you're just absorbing information. And I thought, I don't want this to stop. I gotta keep doing that. So, it's part of the learning journey.

“And (journalism is) the best way to just keep exploring the world. Every time we turn around, there's a new something. I guess that's why Desert Exposure was so well suited; I got to go to all the communities and learn things about everything.

“There are definitely some things that you just do it again and again over the years. Stuff like elections, that you have to do as a journalist – that becomes old.”

The news industry contracted drastically during your career. How did that affect you?

“It’s been interesting. It's, again, part of the journey, but I think it's also been sad for journalism. Things are getting more and more fragmented because of the internet and because people can put out whatever information they want to put out, whether it's real or not. And that erodes trust. It erodes confidence.

“When people go to look for information, they’re more likely to go to information that they put out, which also creates more compartmentalization.”

What advice would you give newcomers to journalism?

“Always go out and learn things. Listen to everything. Don't be afraid to talk to us. To those of us who have been in the business, don't be afraid to walk into the building and say, ‘Hey, can I speak to the reporter.’ And don't be afraid to submit stuff.

“You don't have to be a graduate, or you can come in with a story idea. And somebody would likely say, go for it. Because we always need people to bring new information.”

Elva Österreich, reporter, photographer, editor