I knew at 16 what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Heck, I probably knew at 4 but couldn’t verbalize it then as I roamed around the house, “covering” a party presidential convention played out on our black-and-white TV. (Back to you, Chet.)
I still know.
It’s always been the same answer: a newspaper reporter. It’s nothing fancy, and no one I’ve ever met does it for the pay. These days, it’s old media. Call me crazy but I’ve always wanted to write stories about ordinary people that do extraordinary things—maybe not even extraordinary, but things that are unusual, fun, unexpected or even typical but somehow make a difference in the life of a community.
Here I am practically an old lady now and I still can’t imagine anything more interesting than stepping up to the sidelines of another person’s life, getting a good look inside, asking the questions others are wondering about but lack access, opportunity or, as my husband would say--the brass to ask.
And then, with a notebook brimming, and the setting recorded inside my camera, I return to the newsroom and write. I’m the one entrusted to tell the community what happened. It still feels like an honor.
Maybe it’s a story about the average guy who won millions (and millions) in the lottery. Or one about what it’s like to be an Amish homemaker transplanted from Pennsylvania to rural Indiana. Could be ongoing stories about artist Robert Indiana’s interest in his hometown. Or updates over a longer period of time about a little boy who finally got a new heart and today lives happily ever after.
The happily ever afters … oh yeah, those are sweet.
I’ve been at this thing called community journalism for more than three decades now. Where have those years gone? People are starting to ask me things like, “When are you retiring?” Someone the other day sent an email telling me she hoped I didn’t retire for a long time. I guess the clock is ticking.
But if it’s the first Saturday in December, I’m not an old newspaper gal. On that magical day each year, if my name appeared in an autumn letter telling my employer that I would be particularly interested in attending the Hoosier State Press Association Newsroom Seminar and Awards Banquet, that means I will spend the day mixing and mingling with news people from across Indiana, that my stomach will produce a butterfly or two, and that I will fall in love with newspapering all over again.
The first year I attended HSPA, I was nearing graduation from Indiana State and had accepted my first full-time reporter’s job at the Attica Ledger-Tribune. In one of the oddest turns of circumstance in my life, it so happened that the Attica editor was Sue Barnhizer (now Anderson, Ph.D, by the way), whom I grew up with! I knew that Sue had a journalism degree and had even been editor-in-chief of the Ball State newspaper.
But it wasn’t until we moved to Fountain County and I looked down at an issue of the Attica paper to spot her byline that I knew where she had landed. I called Sue and she was thrilled that we lived nearby. Things worked out that I could be her reporter as well as her friend. Oh, we had some fine times.
One of those fine times was December 1983 when Sue and I went to HSPA together. We left the conference so inspired to “do good journalism,” we felt like prowling for a story the moment we left the Indianapolis Convention Center.
We vowed to return the next year and one year, to even win a prize.
We did both one year later, taking home an award for our coverage of a company that wanted to blow up chemicals in our rural county. Gov. Robert Orr flew in to reassure the citizens that he opposed the company. This country bumpkin with a notebook even got to accompany the county big shots inside the governor’s private office to meet with him personally on the matter. Big stuff for a rookie.
The year after that, we returned to the convention again. I can’t recall if we won anything – maybe – but more awards followed as the years passed; first in Attica, then in New Castle. I think of Sue every first Saturday in December and remember the blast we had “doing journalism” in those early days.
In fact, on this first Saturday in December, I always think of so many of my colleagues, cronies and competition with which I have spent this day and shared newsrooms through the decades. We wear our best office attire and settle in to hear experts in our field. Then we eat a fancy meal, and if we’re fortunate, haul home some hardware.
It happened again today. This year, I had the pleasure of spending the day with my editor and friend, Katie Clontz. When I started working at The Courier, Katie was not quite 3. For many years, I worked with her mom, Amy, our former news editor. Talk about full circle. I am so delighted to see Katie love newspapering the way I always have.
Katie and I won awards and we both left Indy wanting to go back home and “do good journalism.” Just like those before us did. Just like I have wanted to do since I was 16—or 4.
God willing, we’ll do just that and come the first Saturday in December 2016, we'll gather with those of like minds yet again.