While leaving work today (last Friday, as of this edit), I dusted off my keyboard, packed my lunch leftovers and picked up a copy of the week’s Acorn newspaper before heading out for the weekend.
Except it wasn’t just for the weekend.
At least for now, the ritual marked my final day writing for the Acorn Newspaper, a job I’ve been at for the better part of two years.
When I look back, the experience plays out like a filmstrip in my head.
I remember that as a fresh graduate in May 2015, I had no job offers, no real business connections, and not much of a direction as to what my next “big thing” was going to be (an expedited graduation date isn’t always beneficial; while I had enough credits to shave off a year of college, it meant I had to figure out life faster). I knew that I a) liked to write, b) wasn’t terrible at it, an c) devoured every book assigned in my journalism minor classes, but the job prospects were and are slim pickings.
I also remember distinctly NOT having ever heard of Acorn Newspapers, as I live outside its coverage region. But somehow I stumbled across the email address of the person who’d eventually become my editor, letting him know I’d write for free; I just wanted the experience.
For those first unpredictable weeks out of school, I freelanced/wrote free stuff for both the Santa Barbara Independent and Acorn while working part-time at a small law firm.
However, that legal assistant job was short-lived (about three weeks, maybe) when a spot unexpectedly opened up at Acorn Newspapers. Upon my editor’s request, I interviewed for the slot, though I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. The job opportunity passed but just a week later, another spot opened up. After concluding that my writing piece wasn’t awful, I got the congratulatory phone call.
It was official, at 21 I had my first real, big-girl job and a paycheck every 10 days to show for it. It was a neat thing to have some people’s ears perk up during conversations when I told them worked for a paper.
But what went into the prestige of being able to say that wasn’t always so glamorous. Unfortunately articles that had earned me A’s in my college Public Affairs reporting class weren’t quite up to Acorn par, not at the start.
As my editor put it at the time (which continues to ring true today), it wasn’t my job to know everything, but just a little about everything. And so over time, I learned to become better and faster at disseminating information on budgets reports, state laws, water rates, building permits, court cases, elections, and anything else that never was (or still isn’t) in my wheelhouse.
The one thing I could never get used to was contacting a family of a victim who’d died, or faced another traumatic experience. I don’t think I ever could. But I’m glad I did have the opportunity to do so, because it made me more human, and everything else seemed so much easier by comparison.
When I first started out, I remember the late nights and not having much of a social life as my weekends were dedicated to rewrites and not drowning under deadlines. I remember on multiple occasions waking up in the middle of the night struck by thoughts like “Oh no, I spelled that person’s name wrong and now it’s in more than 2,000 papers!” or worse, “What if so-and-so takes my words out of context and writes me a scathing email about it?”
And that happened sometimes. Shortly after publishing a piece about an embezzlement investigation, I even got an “anonymous” phone call on my cell from a person who informed me rather aggressively “Your article is s—t!” and hung up. After that, it merely became the occasional Facebook commenter (or troll) that ascribed certain untrue characteristics to me, which were fortunately few and far between.
I don’t regret any of it.
As a person who used to put so much stock into caring what people thought of me, I learned to relinquish that way of thinking somewhat. Having my byline under a handful of stories each week, I got used to being held accountable, putting myself out there and perhaps even risking not being known as nice at times. I learned to stand up for myself a little more and not let myself be pushed in a corner by those with more impressive LinkedIn profiles.
I of course have my editor(s) to thank for all this and more. Even though less than 10 percent of readers are going to read my content all the way through, I know the importance of providing that information and presenting it in the most professional, yet engaging way possible. I learned that getting information doesn’t stop when one source doesn’t pick up the phone call and that there’s a story in everything. And even for the seemingly most mundane topics, those can be spun into creative pieces.
My favorite part in this whole two-yearlong adventure has been the people. I’ve gotten to work with good people here in the office, find trustworthy, reliable sources in seemingly unexpected places, and strike up friendships with a fellow millennial blogger at a city event, as well as a reporter at a competing paper.
One of my first stories I wrote was after meeting the parents of Rohith “Ro” Gopal, who lost their 18-year-old son too soon in a car accident. The warm, generous spirit they displayed in the aftermath of their loss is not something I’ll soon forget. Although they may never see this, I thank them for inviting me into their home not once, but twice.
There was also Albert Rosa, a Greek Jew who escaped death more than once during the height of the Nazi regime. His resolve to continue sharing his story, despite the initial pain he experienced when telling it is an inspiration.
There was a former beauty queen who spun a negative pageant experience into a business venture that aims to help people grow in their confidence, a burn survivor who continues to stay strong for her children, a female polo player who didn’t let gender be a barrier in her sport and a father who’s walked hundreds of miles to keep alive the memory of his son.
Out of the 400+ pieces I’ve written, there’s no way to list every single human interest piece that touched my heart, but please know they did, and that has been the most rewarding part of what I do.
I realize it may seem silly for someone my age to dedicate 1,000+ words to bid adieu to a job I’ve only had for two years, but I suppose that’s a reflection of just how much those two years have impacted me.
I have a lot of people to credit that to—my editors, who took a chance on a clueless 21-year-old and took the time to mold me into a better writer and person (I hope!), readers that spoke kindly about my work, even those who had quite the opposite opinion (you made me stronger). I appreciate my parents’ support, especially when they’d initially been wary of what exactly I’d do with an English degree, and the support of friends who understood when work came first but were always there to rejoice in my victories.
As my time being able to say “I work for a newspaper” comes to a close, I prefer to think of it not as a “goodbye forever,” but a “bye for now.” I hope that even though my byline will cease to exist (at least in print, at least for now), the relationships I’ve forged will not. And, I’m always happy to hear a story or a simple message from a friend via my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s scary not knowing exactly what the next two years, or even the next five or ten will have in store for me, but it’s kind of beautiful too. At least, I hope it will be.