If someone had told me, two years ago, that I could be happy sitting on the sidelines, watching other journalists work, I would have been convinced that person was hallucinating.
In between teaching gigs, I’ve spent most of the past 30 years in journalism at one level or another. I know the frustration of fruitless investigations, the tedium of crunching crime stats, and the frenetic energy of a newsroom on Election Night. I’ve pored over court records, spent holidays covering crime scenes, and done shots of peppermint schnapps to remove the stench of dead bodies from my sinuses. And I’ve found the profession wildly addictive, despite its myriad drawbacks.
Last time I taught it, I relapsed and ended up back at a newspaper less than two years later — so you can imagine my consternation last spring when my boss asked me to take over our journalism program.
A semester in, I can safely say my concerns were unfounded: As it turns out, the view from the sidelines is pretty striking.
In early October, after six weeks of training and preparation, we published the first issue of our monthly newspaper. It looked good. The kids’ writing sounded professional. Their photos were strong. And our superintendent was delighted (even if she didn’t especially enjoy being used as our guinea pig to practice filing FOIA requests).
Later that month, one of my student photographers shot our annual fall festival and earned himself a photo credit in the local weekly. In late November, two of my students learned to use inDesign as they laid out our third issue, which we published earlier this month. On Thursday, I submitted another student photo to the local weekly paper. And tonight, writing the kids’ semester exam, I realized exactly how much they’ve learned in a very short time.
Their enthusiasm is palpable — and contagious. Watching them, I remember how journalism felt when I was a 17-year-old high-school senior freelancing for my hometown weekly, young and hungry and hopeful. But this time around, that feeling isn’t driving me back to the newsroom; it’s cementing my place in the classroom. The Fourth Estate doesn’t need me out chasing stories. It needs me in class, training the rookies who will carry it through the next three decades.
I’m honored to do that.