Last summer, a team of four journalists landed in flyover country. Their goal: immerse themselves in a rural community and tell its story.

The mission is a success so far, they say, but it isn't over.


The "Fly Over Me" crew is heading back to Valentine in June.

Armed with reinforcements, this band of young men and women will complete the storytelling journey they launched last summer by creating a documentary film chronicling life in a community nestled in rural America.

This is all about people, their families, their roots, their daily lives, their hopes and their dreams. These are their stories. 

And where better than Valentine, in the midst of the storied Sandhills where ranch land stretches to the distant horizon under the canopy of a huge western sky?

This is a community snuggled close to the scenic Niobrara River and neighbor to South Dakota's nearby Rosebud Reservation, which has dramatic — and melancholy — stories of its own.

The four original storytellers in this crew — Andrew Dickinson, Jacob Zlomke, Lauren Justice and Nick Teets — traveled to Valentine, found a house and lived in the community all last summer.

They helped finance their adventure with contributions solicited on Kickstarter, the online fundraising site for creative projects.

Last summer, they proceeded to tell Valentine's story in print and with photographs, on audio and video, through an online blog and a website, and in real time. A film — and a book portraying this story largely through photographs — always was viewed as the capstone of their project.

So, in mid-June, they will return to Valentine for a month and complete what they set out to do, taking four additional young photographers, videographers and writers with them to help complete the story.

"I'm really excited to go back," Dickinson says.

"Deciding what to paint on this giant blank canvas has been an incredible experience for us," he says.

It is the people who have been the frosting on this cake, Dickinson says.

"Every person has a story to tell," Zlomke says.

"They are proud of their roots, their family ranch background, their community. They want to fix their own problems. This is their place."

The team plans to be in Valentine from June 15 to July 15. 

Last summer produced 18 multimedia stories; the documentary film will merge that work and add to the storytelling.

"We want to share with an outside audience what life for the people of rural United States really means — their hopes, aspirations, struggles, their day-to-day," the original team said in a posting on their Fly Over Me website.

"It's an important part of our culture that we feel is too often ignored or undermined by most traditional media outlets."

An accompanying video trailer on YouTube previews this summer's work.

The film will be structured within four themes: the community; ranching; tourism, focusing on the river; the reservation.

"Nothing is absolutely set," Dickinson says. "It will be a democratic process."

"We will focus on people within the categories," Zlomke says

Last summer, their Fly Over Me concept — a name that plays with the idea of flyover country — attracted $5,187 in donations through the Kickstarter campaign. Each participant in this summer's project expects to incur about $500 in personal living expenses.

Both Dickinson and Zlomke are 22. Zlomke is a recent graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Dickinson has one UNL semester to go.

Along with being a self-described soda jerk at Ivanna Cone's ice cream shop in the Haymarket, Zlomke is a staff writer for HearNebraska.org, a nonprofit cultural organization that cultivates Nebraska's music and arts community.

Dickinson has been engaged in a number of recent projects that have taken him to Haiti, Ghana and Ethiopia on photography and photojournalism missions. 

He is a former editor of the Daily Nebraskan and Zlomke is former editor of the Dailyer Nebraskan, the satirical campus newspaper, but both are reaching beyond traditional journalism now.

The Valentine project may be just the beginning, a model that could lead down new roads, they believe.

Perhaps Nebraska musicians and small-town movie theaters might be brought into the mix, Dickinson says. 

Perhaps "traveling documentaries" lie down the road.

"If we find out this is sustainable, it is the perfect time to experiment," Zlomke says.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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