On the @USATODAY Twitter feed this morning was the headline “Dale Earnhardt: 10 years after crash killed NASCAR star.”
Really? I thought. That was 10 years ago already? I remember, I had just started at The Times-Mail and ….
I did the math and realized it was 10 years ago this month, Feb. 5, 2001, that I took my first full-time writing job. I’ve been writing “professionally,” that is being paid to write, for an entire decade, for one-third of my life.
I remember the Dale Earnhardt story distinctly because it was my first exposure to community journalism. I had been taught how to do community journalism and how to localize a national story like that in journalism classes, but I had never seen it done in real time. I was a such a novice back then, roughly two weeks on the job when Earnhardt was killed. But I recall the other seasoned writers leaving the newsroom and going to places where people hang out, particularly places were people who are into NASCAR hang out, and asking them their reaction. I remember the photographer and a staff reporter covering a memorial tribute that was held in the community.
Earnhardt’s death was the first time I witnessed localization, and The Times-Mail did an excellent job at that. Over the years there, I would contribute to many a story where something happened on the national or state level, and the front page story we produced wasn’t that Earnhardt had died or that the towers had fallen but the reactions and responses of the people in Bedford, Ind. The Times-Mail taught me how to do that, amongst other things. It’s The Times-Mail that gave me a handful of space-related assignments about its hometown astronauts Gus Grissom, Ken Bowersox and Charlie Walker and about students going to Space Camp that resulted in the clips I used to land my current job writing for NASA. The paper gave me a great start in my career as writer, believing in a fresh college graduate and shepherding her into becoming a bona fide writer.
It’s really hard to believe I’ve been doing this ten years. I felt so inadequate when I began, and often still do. But there must be something there or people wouldn’t continue to pay me to do it, right?
I wouldn’t trade it for any other career in the world. I am extremely grateful for the writing talents God gave me, the honing of those talents by my college professors, co-writers, and editors, and the opportunity to do this thing that I love.