Monday, August 16, 2010

For the love of journalism

Four years ago, I got to witness something pretty incredible. A little league team from the Georgia town I was living in went all the way and won the Little League World Series. At the time I was designing the front page a couple of nights a week at the newspaper, and I got caught up in the baseball fever that took over the whole town.

I bring this up because Friday night, after dinner with friends (I'm not a complete loser), I found myself watching another team from that Georgia town win a spot in the Little League World Series.

Back in 2006, I remember writing down some of my thoughts after it was all over, and I found that document on my computer. I titled it “lovemyjob,” and if I had a blog back then, it would have been a post. I decided to pull it back out and post it here (with a few edits) because it is one of those things I don’t want to forget.

A few things to note: This was four years ago, and the newspaper had barely started to see the readership and advertising declines that would shrink the staff and the product. I also believed I would always be a copy editor and page designer, just at a larger paper. It was only a year later that I was preparing to move into my first management position at that newspaper, and three years later I moved to an all online product.

I found my niche in newspapers as a copy editor and eventually a page designer. I love what I do. I love driving people to stories with my design or headline. I love finding all the little mistakes and making a story better. I’m the reason the paper gets out every day. Yes, the printing press has something to do with that, but you have to have a front page.

Even though I love all of this, some days I wonder why I love it. I spend 45 minutes sitting in a meeting letting everyone argue what cheesy or overrated story will go on my page. I get stuck in the middle of a miscommunication or find myself fighting with the metro editor about putting too much in my section or getting a 26-inch story when it’s only supposed to be 12.

I found myself losing sight of what I loved about my job, why I got into journalism in the first place. But recently, I was reminded what it is all about.

It was my day to design the front page, and they told me the centerpiece was going to be the regional championship game the city’s Little League team was playing in Florida. I balked at this plan because in the months I had been there, I had designed at least three pages that depended on the outcome of a sporting event, and every single time the local team lost. And it completely ruined the feel of the page. Blowing out a team losing is not really happy news. I told the editors at the meeting, but they laughed me off. I spent the night on the edge of my seat, hoping these 12-year-old boys could pull it out. Not because I really cared about their egos, but because I cared about what my page would look like. In the end they won the game, and broke my curse apparently.

But at this point I didn’t realize we would spend the next two weeks designing pages around the Little League World Series. By Monday the editors were making plans to send a reporter and a photographer to Pennsylvania, and we were putting these kids on the front page day after day. I had many more edge-of-my-seat nights, but it was no longer about how my page looked, it was about me getting attached to these players. By the end of it all, I knew each kid by name, and I watched them play even when I wasn’t at work.

The paper went all out for the Series with special section after special section. Fortunately, it was all warranted. These boys were good. And they went all the way winning the world championship. Our coverage was huge the day after they won, and we continued to blow it out as they returned home.

As tired as we may have gotten of the late nights and controlling editors, I loved every minute of it. It brought me back to why I love my job. We gave them coverage that no one else could. We told their stories and more than just whether they won or lost, but why the pitcher wears his hat cocked to the side and what they did when they weren’t playing. The TV stations couldn’t do all that we did. These boys (well, maybe just their parents) will keep these newspapers for years. They will go in scrapbooks and frames as a way to remember such an amazing moment. We've been able to tell great stories and show the character of 11 amazing boys. And it wasn’t just about the boys, it was the entire community brought together by these boys – a community that couldn’t get enough of little league or pitcher and power-hitter Kyle Carter. All the bad news seemed to fade away when little league fever hit the town and the paper.

I knew getting into this job was risky. I chose a job at a paper owned by a company that was up for sale. Readership continues to decline as more people turn to the Internet and 24-hour news channels. But stories like this are the reason papers are going to survive all of this. Our pages will go into the city record, and this event will be something no one will forget. There may be a war going on in the Middle East and threats of terror attacks around every corner, but people see that everywhere. Newspapers can give readers all of that news but also the news of the community, what people are really talking about. And maybe it will shift to the Internet but the storytelling won’t die in the online world.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. Completely agree on every level. It's so important to preserve these "joys of the job" moments. They make it all worth it!
    thanks for writing!