How do you create a career with stories?

Pioneer Senior Editor Pam Blair, CCC, focuses on human connections, designing experiences and staying curious. She retires at the end of December, celebrating a 28-year career of strengthening utility stories and developing storytellers.

Pam joined Pioneer, then called Ruralite Services, at the end of 1994 as an editorial assistant. Through almost three decades, she supported Utility Pioneers in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Idaho and Louisiana with Ruralite magazine, KIUC Currents, Currents, Florida Currents and Louisiana Country editions. She became an energy expert and certified cooperative communicator, writing “Energy Matters” and “Plugged In” features for Utility Pioneers to use in local magazine editions.

“Her copyediting skills are superb, and she’s always been a solid, prolific writer,” notes retired Ruralite Editor Curtis Condon, who hired Pam. “That goes for any writing — news, commentary, feature — but especially energy-related content. From the beginning, her energy writing won national awards, as well as the praise and respect of people inside and outside the company.”

Pam, editing a Ruralite magazine article in 2016.
Read Ruralite Stories by Pam

In 1998, Pam helped Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative and Arizona Electric Power Cooperative launch Currents, a six-times-a-year publication for Arizona utility members. During her time overseeing that publication, she regularly contributed feature stories included not only in Currents, but in Ruralite, too.

Arizona Currents, now branded Currents, continues to evolve as seen in these covers from the last 20 years.

In 2004, Pam helped the staff of a brand-new electric co-op in Hawaii, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, create what has become a quarterly magazine, KIUC Currents. For people who had been served by an investor-owned utility before the community created the co-op in 2002, the new magazine was a lifeline, explaining the power of cooperation to members.

The first year of KIUC Currents magazine editions, shown here, helped the new electric co-op establish a face and brand in the community.

When Utility Pioneers from five electric co-ops in Florida approached Pioneer in 2011 to ask for help creating a magazine branded for the Sunshine State, Pam worked with them to launch Florida Currents magazine.

“I still marvel at that project — the start of it, in particular,” Curtis says. “It was a considerable undertaking on an incredibly short timeline. Less than six weeks after being asked to create a Florida version of Ruralite, the first issue of Florida Currents rolled off the press and into the mail. Pretty amazing!”

“Pam has been such a joy to work with. I’ll miss her can-do, co-op attitude and amiable personality immensely,” Peace River Electric Co-op Communications Coordinator Mark Sellers says. “We’ve worked together since day 1, when PRECO joined the Pioneer community in 2011. She became my go-to whenever I had grammar or wording issues, forging me into a better writer as a result of her caring guidance.”

Pam’s been at the helm of Florida Currents since 2011.

After Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, swept across Florida in 2017, she joined PRECO’s staff on the ground. When Hurricane Ian knocked out 89% of meters at the same co-op in 2022, she pitched in again — this time remotely.

“Pam was always eager to help when times were tough,” Mark says. “I lived at the co-op for five days and worked 10 days straight after Ian. I was physically and mentally exhausted. Pam stepped in and, gleaning info from our social media and media releases, wrote an article for us. Reading the story, anyone would have thought that she had experienced our storm restoration firsthand!”

After Hurricane Irma, Pam helped PRECO with a variety of communication tasks, including social media support, field photography and writing.

In 2020, Pam and Pioneer Assistant Editor Chasity Anderson, CCC,  helped expand another locally-branded member publication, Louisiana Country. The publication transitioned from a newspaper format to a magazine, featuring custom covers, local pages and shared statewide content.

“It has been such an honor to work alongside Pam for so many years,” says Mike Teegarden, CCC, Pioneer’s editorial director for electric magazines. “My life has been enriched thanks to her friendship and support through work and personal ups and downs. While I will greatly miss working together, I am excited that Pam gets to embrace all of her hobbies with reckless abandon.”

In a “StoryConnect Podcast” interview, Pam shared how her approach to storytelling evolved over the last 28 years. She offers three storytelling tips for Utility Pioneers.

1. Write Human Connections

Pam began her writing career as a newspaper reporter. When she started at Pioneer, her journalism roots kept her writing focused on the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why.

“Those are still important, but I’ve learned over time that the human face is far more important,” Pam says. “Every story, no matter how newsy it is, has a personal angle that can be told and has so much more impact. As I’m editing stories, I’m always looking for the human face. How can we personalize it? How can we make an emotional connection with the topic for our readers?”

Pam’s last story as a Pioneer storyteller, “A Field of Dreams,” was published in October’s edition of Florida Currents.

“The program, Miracle League Baseball, is interesting,” Pam says, “but telling the story through the eyes of a player provides a stronger emotional connection for the reader.”

Read A Field of Dreams

Another recent feature, “Saving the Bees,” could have been written as a business profile. Instead, Pam opted to profile Kelly Estill, aka “The Bee Lady,” comparing her team to crime investigators.

“When readers spend time with stories, I want them to feel like they had a chance to sit down and get to know the person featured — whether I write the piece or I assign the story to a freelancer,” Pam says.

Read A Field of Dreams

Her drive to help readers connect to a story culminated with a feature she wrote for Florida Currents after Hurricane Michael swept through the state — one of her favorite pieces written while at Pioneer.

“The photo of Jason Curry embracing his young son tore at my heart. It still does,” Pam says. “As I crafted the story, I wanted to make sure readers felt all of the emotion and, to the extent possible, put them in that terrifying place of surviving as the hurricane literally is unleashing its wrath. Through the story, I also hoped and prayed that people would not forget the struggles of those who, even today, are still in recovery mode.”

Read Utter Destruction

2. Design an Experience

The experience doesn’t end with your words. Pam matches writing with engaging photography and page design, too.

“I’m a jigsaw puzzle fan, and I like to look at how pieces can fit together and really give the reader an experience,” Pam says. “I enjoy the presentation, the packaging — page design. I love that right now.”

Pam shared a few examples of story experiences she designed.

“Oyster Mom,” June 2021: “I loved being able to incorporate the oyster shell into the spread.”
“A Mecca for Paddlers,” August 2021: “I like the interplay between the photo and the headline.”
“From Ink to Film,” January 2022: “I enjoyed coming up with the filmstrip concept to pull this spread together, along with the dynamic art.”

3. Build a Career on Curiosity

Asked to share career advice, Pam offered one simple yet powerful tip: Never stop being curious.

“I am an introvert, and it can be hard to be bold enough to step out and ask questions,” she says. “You feel like you’re intruding. But as a communicator, that’s what you do. We are all curious, even introverts. We want to ask the question; maybe we’re afraid? As a communicator, that’s your job. You ask questions. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become. It doesn’t change your introverted nature, but it’s a cool way to be yourself and be bold enough to get answers.”

 

Pam’s Next Chapter

While she may eventually freelance, Pam says she’s focused on relaxing when she retires at the end of December. She’s teed up plans to golf in Arizona, spend more time at the gym and really learn to play pickleball. She’s also looking into a local school reading volunteer program and plans to learn conversational Spanish.

Her story may change, but the friendships she formed during her storied career remain.

“Freelancers called her for more than just to pitch a story. Many became family,” says retired Pioneer Publications Administrator Linda Wiseman, who worked with Pam for 26 years. “Pam has been there for the staff at Pioneer whenever people needed her — not just because they were co-workers, but because they were friends and family.”

“Pam is more than an editor,” Mark says. “I call her friend.”

For Pam, the feeling is mutual.

“I cherish the relationships I made through the years with my co-workers and all of the utility people I came in contact with through the years,” Pam says. “As my job responsibilities shifted from one publication to another, I lost the opportunity to have regular monthly contact with people I had worked with for years. As someone who values relationships, that was the absolute hardest part of my job — and it is what I will miss most.”

Pam, center, with Florida Utility Pioneers, from left, Nikki Dunn Cullen, Sabrina Owens, Charlotte Heston, Pamela Keene and Maria Jones.
This fall editorial team members Jennifer Paton, left, Pam and Chasity Anderson supported the Foundation for Rural Services Run together.