One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about my experience at Lumina News is working with young writers, including interns from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. And it was the comment of a former intern that made me reflect back on my own start in journalism.
“I love seeing my name in print. I hope that feeling never gets old,” said Alexandra Golder, who graduated with her English degree in March, when she saw her first printed story for Lumina News as part of her spring 2016 internship.
It’s that very sentiment that launched my journalism career.
It was the fall of 1990 and I was a junior at Orange Park High School, located in a suburb of football-frenzied Jacksonville, Florida. A school acquaintance, Justin, was a correspondent for the county’s local paper, the Monday through Friday Clay Today, where he covered our Raiders’ football games.
One weekend, Justin was going to be out of town and needed a sub. We were both in honors English and he eventually asked me if I was free to do it. But I wasn’t the first person he asked, as we were more acquaintances than friends, who each asked Justin how much the job would pay. At 50 cents a column inch, a standard 14-inch story covering the game would net a whopping $7, and also free entry into the game. While others scoffed at the paltry amount, I had a different question for Justin.
“So you mean my name would be in the paper,” I asked.
Knowing he had his mark, Justin played it up. “Yeah, of course, and the editor would probably hire you if you did well.”
After the Friday game, I came in on Sunday to write the story for Monday’s paper., where I met that editor, a man with the unique name of Christ Prokos. That’s not a typo. (I’ve reached out to him on LinkedIn, he may now be a news producer in Greenville, N.C.)
I dutifully typed out a quarter-by-quarter recap of the action. He did what had to be done and ripped it apart, carefully placing useful segments where they needed to be and crafting a proper news story from what was left.
Sitting beside “Chris” as we edited the story, it was a revelation. Seeing how the story fit together, how it could flow, it was like magic, derived from an order and structure that allows for creativity and storytelling along with utility. All of a sudden, writing made sense.
It is safe to say, I was hooked on writing after that. For two years, I was a correspondent for the newspaper, most often covering a county team other than my high school. I didn’t care. In fact, I prefered it. I was for nobody, I was there to tell the story of what happened. And to see my name in the paper.
I followed up that early high school start by working for my college newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, serving the University of Florida. Over two years there, I did a little bit of everything. I started by reporting stories, but eventually started shooting photos and working in graphic design. One semester, I was the art director for the paper’s entertainment section. Fun work.
Like the local paper, the Alligator offered a mere stipend. It was not a job, in the true sense, and thanks to being fortunate to have generous parents, I was able to make that work.
I was fully dedicated to the Alligator. I loved it. I lived and breathed it. We competed with the local Gainesville paper for news stories. We covered all the cool events. I once shot a basketball game.
It’s that passion for this field that’s led me to Lumina News today. And it’s primarily what I learned through those early two experiences that give me the knowledge and insight that I’ll use in rebuilding the Lumina News.
Throughout my career, I continued to apply what I learned in those early years. After college, I took that experience to local newspapers in Sebring, Fla. and Rockville, Md. before eventually landing at a Washington D.C.-based trade publication that covered telecommunications policy. I primarily covered Congress in that role, which eventually created an opportunity to work as a communications aide to a couple of congressional committees, and eventually, a high-profile private sector public relations job that didn’t truly fit my skill sets. I was making more money, but I had become miserable in the process. I found myself daydreaming about the good old days, when I was a poorly-paid newspaper reporter, because at least I was having fun.
As take my first few steps on this new path as the publisher of the Lumina News, I can’t help but reflect back upon where this journey started. The past few weeks have been some of the hardest I’ve ever worked, but they’ve also been some of the most fulfilling. Alexandra was onto something, seeing your work in print doesn’t get old, and the opportunity before me with the Lumina News reminds me very much of thrill I experienced at the start of my career.