You probably think this song is about you

September 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm (Uncategorized)

This week I got an award for reporting. Called the “Write Track” award, it was a giant red novelty pen, that our publisher covered with cut-out letters and numbers scotch-taped on the sides. It was more than a foot long, and so big I couldn’t even hold it with one hand. But by God, it writes. It’s a shame I only got to have it sitting on my desk for a week before it was passed on to the next worthy recipient.

All joking aside, it was kind of nice to get the attention. Despite the momentary embarrassment of being handed the atrocity during a newsroom wide meeting, it was satisfying to get the recognition. I had covered a big, breaking story for about a week and a half, and people noticed. For that time, there was a lot of attention on me and the fact that I was the expert on this story. People wanted to talk with me about the big school scandal, so they came to me for my opinions on the matter. My name was on the front page of the paper every day, and people actually gossiped about my stories around the water cooler at work.

There is no doubt that this job feeds the ego, and I’d be lying if I said that isn’t one of the things I enjoy most. I still get excited to see my name in print; to watch someone read my story in a coffee shop; to introduce myself to a new person and watch the expression on their face when I tell them I’m a reporter. There’s a definite cool factor that comes along with being a journalist, and as it turns out, I’m pretty vain.

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The Cause

August 21, 2009 at 7:49 pm (Uncategorized)

I am prone to guilt. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised the other day when it suddenly dawned on me that part of the reason I’m torn about leaving journalism is because I feel guilty. Journalists are martyrs — just ask us.

More than people who work other “normal” jobs, we reporters like to think that we’re fighting for some great cause. Sure, we get paid crap and have virtually no benefits, but we’re toiling away, protecting freedom and democracy, right?

“They make you feel like you’re doing God’s work,” my coworker joked the other day.

So true.

I didn’t become a reporter because I wanted to save the world. I did it because I liked to write, and I managed to get a job at a newspaper. But without realizing I’d drunk the Kool-Aid, I find that I, too, believe that buried in the daily grind of school board meetings and stories about wastewater treatment, we are doing a good thing.

So am I a sellout? Do I need to feel bad for wanting to make a little more money? For not wanting to forever plan my life around evening meetings and breaking news? For wanting a few more vacation days? For resenting the extra work dumped on me after colleagues quit or are laid off?

After all, we’re not saving souls.

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The lady doth protest too much, methinks

August 18, 2009 at 2:34 am (Uncategorized)

Today I got to pretend I was a courts reporter.

I was just settling in, ready to write a gripping story about traffic congestion, when my favorite editor stopped by the cubicle and informed me I had to take over a story our courts reporter had been working on. Turns out, she’d been subpoenaed in the case she was covering, and could no longer write about it.

This reporter is a bit territorial and acted like I was prying the story from her little hands. (Um, chill out.) “Ugh, I can’t believe I was subpoenaed. This is so irritating,” she kept saying.

But really, I’m pretty sure she though it was cool.

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Playing as a team

August 13, 2009 at 3:39 pm (Uncategorized)

There are a lot fewer people on our team at work these days. Which means it’s a lot easier to drop the ball.

But our captains don’t seem to realize that fewer people means fewer runs, fewer wins. When you lose as many people as we’ve lost, those who are left can’t produce the same amount of stories. Most days we’re just lucky we don’t have to forfeit.

For several days last week, I followed a tip about a teacher being busted for distributing drugs. I knew about it before any other media, but couldn’t get anyone to tell it to me on the record. Eventually I had to pass the investigating off to someone else, because I was working on too many stories. That someone else did a halfhearted job, didn’t follow up on it, and eventually missed getting the story in the paper, so we got beat by TV news. Shudder.

It’s hard to be mad, though, since that someone was already covering two evening meetings. I’d already written three stories that day. One of us should have gotten the stupid story, but when? In theory it was an avoidable mistake, but I can’t figure out what we could have done differently. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day or warm bodies in the newsroom, and it’s starting to make us look sloppy.

“Being a reporter is a brutal reminder every single day that we’re not perfect,” one of my coworkers said.

In terms of developing character, it’s probably a good reminder. But there isn’t a whole lot of room in news for dropped balls.

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And she was none the wiser

August 12, 2009 at 2:47 am (Uncategorized)

I stayed up until 3 a.m. this morning, chatting online. Why do I do this? Please don’t judge me.

Apparently I don’t bounce back from sleep deprivation quite like I did at 15, and I got me some daaaaark under-eye circles to prove it. So I was supposed to interview a woman at 10:30, but when I rolled over at 10:29, I realized this wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I practically fell out of bed, scrambled for my glasses and threw on my fuzzy red robe. I cleared my throat about 10 times, gargled some water and practiced talking out loud to my dog, Charley, in an effort to dislodge the sleep from my voice. I called up my interviewee and apologetically explained that “something came up” at work, and proceeded to do the interview at this very laptop, cradling my cell phone against my bed head.

I’m pretty sure I pulled it off.

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And so it begins

August 10, 2009 at 1:27 am (Uncategorized)

Most days I feel pretty good about my decision; the one to leave my first and only career after three years on the job. Except I sort of feel like a 20-something trying to write a memoir — will people take me seriously? Aren’t career changers supposed to be in the middle of their careers, leaving a high-paying corporate job for something like the selfless life of a sixth-grade science teacher or nonprofit administrator? Am I allowed to be having an existential crisis years before I hit 30?

In my defense, I never even wanted this career. Journalism snuck up on me. I blinked and I was a reporter. Well, not exactly, but I definitely feel like I’ve been looking for the exit sign all three years I’ve worked at the mid-sized daily newspaper. Problem is, along the way, I fell in love with the gig, the people, the coworkers, the stories, the cynicism, the deadlines, the laughter, the mission. But in the end, I don’t love it enough. So, after taking the LSAT, accumulating patient-care hours for physician assistant school, looking into the pre-requisites for nursing school, taking tests to become a high school English teacher, and coming this close to moving to Baltimore to pursue a master’s degree in design, I have finally decided on the next leg of my journey: school counseling.

I’ve gotten used to the confused looks I invariably receive each time I tell someone of my plan. “Oh, how interesting,” they say, as politely as they can. And then come the questions about how in the world I’ve come to this strange conclusion, and why such a radical departure from journalism. “But you’re a writer!” they say, as though becoming a guidance counselor strips me of that identity. The thing is, after writing about public education for the past several years, the move makes sense to me.

But then there are the fears. I’ve actually had to start wearing a bite guard at night because the thought of going to graduate school full-time while working a full-time job as a reporter apparently makes me clench my teeth. Hard.

I’ve written my whole life, but never been good about keeping a journal. So, here is my attempt. In the coming days, weeks, months, years? (how optimistic of me), I plan to chronicle the end of my reporting career. Journalism is suffering right now, and I feel a tad guilty for deserting it in its time of need. Especially when I’m one of the few lucky ones who has chosen to leave on my own.

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