The best stories aren’t the ones that get the most clicks or win the most awards.
I’ve been telling stories as a reporter for more than 10 years – first in newspapers and now on TV. I’ve worked in Virginia and Alabama and Florida. I’ve covered the arts, entertainment, politics, crime, sports and religion. I’ve interviewed celebrities, covered national breaking news and shot videos that have gone viral.
The best and most memorable stories are the ones about regular people doing good things in the community. Those are the stories I’m going to miss sharing with you.
My contract with WESH-TV wasn’t renewed. It was nothing I did wrong; the station is simply going in another direction. My last day at the station is today, which means my last day as a journalist may be today as well.
I have lived the reporter’s life since 2006. I’ve missed birthday celebrations, worked on holidays and skipped social outings to cover events that didn’t let out until midnight. Pick a time of day, and chances are I’ve been inside a newsroom, hunched over a computer, trying to craft the perfect sentence for a story that fewer than 100 people would read.
And I’ve loved every minute of it.
I am going to miss walking into the newsroom in the morning and not knowing where it may take me by the end of the night. I’m going to miss the tight deadlines, the bonds formed among fellow journalists and the feeling that my words and my videos could change someone’s life.
I won’t miss the coffee. Newsrooms have the worst coffee.
I could probably find a job as a reporter somewhere, either in Orlando or at some other news outlet somewhere in the country. And because I can’t foretell the future, that may happen. But there comes a time when it’s OK to walk away from a career. Being a reporter doesn’t define me. I also collect records, ride bicycles, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, watch horror movies and enjoy watching birds.
Journalism is just a job.
I owe my entire career to a woman who looked past the typos on my first cover letter and hired me anyway. Her name is Jessie Thompson, my first editor at The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Virginia. Without her, I wouldn’t have had so much fun these past 10 years. How many other careers let you drink wine with pagans, interview handicapped pigs named Chris P. Bacon, eat fried turtle, star in a rap video, ride in a hot-air balloon shaped like a beer bottle, throw out the first pitch at a Spring Training game and strut around a nudist resort?
But I’ve also seen a lot of tragedy. I’ve written countless obituaries, talked to the families of murder victims and witnessed how communities react to mass shootings.
In the midst of so much death, there has always been good. Every community is filled with kind, hardworking people trying to make their corner of the world a better place. I’ve made it my mission to tell their stories. We need more local journalists doing that on television, in print and online.
The constant coverage of shootings, car accidents, sex crimes and mayhem is sometimes too much. It shouldn’t be ignored by local media outlets, because that stuff is important, but it leaves an incomplete picture of any single place. It’s wrong to think that news must be negative to be news. A profile on a unique person, the opening of new business or a feature on a local nonprofit is still news. Just because it doesn’t bleed doesn’t mean it can’t lead.
Readers and viewers must do their part, too. Stop clicking on every mugshot and every weird crime story on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t comment. Don’t share it. Demand better. Demand that your local journalists work for their stories and report on things that have real meaning in your town, city and region. Make reporters earn your trust. Force them to think about what they calling “news.” Recognize them when they do well, and hold them accountable when they can do better.
And the only way to do that is to watch the local news and subscribe to the local newspaper. Journalists don’t work for free.
I have no idea what I’ll do in my next career, but I hope to continue telling stories. It’s what I’m good at.
I’ve never been one to focus on the negative, so I won’t. Thanks for reading. Thanks for watching. Thanks for inviting me into your lives. Thanks for an amazing 10 years.