French journalist looks to tell stories of 'real America'




Over the last six weeks, as people listened to what candidates had to say about varying issues, French journalist Thierry Dugeon listened to what Garden Citians had to say about the issues.

"The project was actually to do a portrait of what I call real America, far away from the coasts that we're used to reading about and hearing from ... during the presidential run," Dugeon said about what brought him to Garden City. "So (the project) was to settle down in a city like this, a mid-size city — not too small, and not too big either — and to see the way people live, hear what they have to say, what they are interested in, concerned about, and kind of take their pulse in the last weeks of the presidential run."

Dugeon, who attended the watch party at the Garden City GOP headquarters on election night, said that he came up with the idea to stray a bit from the norm, in terms of how Europeans typically cover American elections.

"Here, it's more local and individual stories, so that's actually what I was looking for because we already had people in New York and Washington. I knew they were going to cover the campaign in the classical way, which is good because we need that, but I also wanted to give individual stories, mainly," he said. "I find that if I compare to what European correspondents fill us with, usually from the East Coast, people have asked themselves way more down to earth questions than what people tell us from the coasts."

Dugeon said that the biggest difference he found between what people from Garden City are focused on compared to what those on the coasts are focused on, is the scope of that focus.

"When people talk about economics of America from here, in interviews, they would tend more to talk about their real life, to give you an example, to tell you how much they make, what kind of taxes they pay, how much they have left by the end of the month or end of the year. Whereas, usually when you read papers from the coast, particularly the East Coast, it's more like a macroeconomics analysis," he said.

Dugeon, who has been a journalist for 24 years, including time as an anchor at a French television station in Paris, used a famous American counterpart to describe himself.

"I was basically doing what these guys do," he said, referring to the correspondents on television who were covering the election. "Or what Anderson Cooper does on CNN."

He recently resigned from the anchor position and approached Le nouvel Observateur, which he described as being the equivalent of Time or Newsweek, about his idea to cover the U.S. election in middle America.

"I wanted the place to be as central as possible on the map, so it had to be Kansas. I wanted a place to be somewhere in the Bible Belt and the corn belt at the same time, and then I wanted the city to be that size of city. I didn't want a big city like Wichita. I didn't want too small a city like Holcomb, next door," he said, adding that he also had considered Dodge City, but felt that it was too heavily associated with the culture of western films.

He said that when he was considering Garden City, something about the name rang a bell with him, but he didn't realize what it was until after he had chosen it.

"After I decided to settle down in Garden City, I remembered that it was 'In Cold Blood' that I read about it. It basically had nothing to do with my reason being here, but that's the reason why I heard of at first, Garden City, a long time ago. Twenty-five years ago," he said.

Dugeon said that since his arrival in Garden City, he has fed Le nouvel Observateur, translated as The New Observer, at least one story or verbatim interview per day, as blogs that appear on the news magazine's website,

"The people around here, I've been feeding them with the link and they've been translating the stories with Google Translator of some kind. Translations are not that accurate, but it gives an idea of what it is basically," he said.

The subjects of his stories have included practically every aspect of life in Garden City.

"I did portraits, mostly trying to get the big picture through a small one, through individual stories. I did a couple of farmers around. I did a portrait of the high school, your brand new high school, under the angle of the whole security system that you have. I did an interview with the local contact for the NRA to talk about guns. I did a portrait of St. Catherine Hospital to talk about your health care system and the Obamacare and different ways to consider the health care issue. Many different things," he said.

While Dugeon didn't feel he had enough information to throw his support behind either presidential candidate, he did predict the victor.

"Obama is going to win. Not even a close call, but these guys think I'm wrong," he said on Tuesday night, laughing.

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