Other than those typical boyhood dreams of being a professional athlete or rock star, journalism is the only career I ever seriously considered.
From the time I started my first journalism class at Wayne High School, I was hooked. Everything about it was (and still is) larger than life. And by having a fantastic college journalism program basically in my backyard, it was an easy decision to study at Marshall University.
When I started taking classes at the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism (the “and Mass Communications” moniker still was a few years away), I only confirmed that this was the professional life for me. The professors, of course, were well versed in journalism. But they taught so much more.
They taught me how to dig deeper – whether it be into a source for more information, into documents for that nugget of knowledge that would make my story even better or even into myself to better my finished product. Those are the things I learned during my time at Marshall, and I never can thank the professors enough for that.
It was 26 years ago, but I distinctly remember sitting in Dr. Ralph Turner’s class one day when he uttered a sentence that changed my life.
“Copy editors are worth their weight in gold,” he said. I’m sure he promptly jumped up on the huge round table in the middle of the lab, or he colored by latest submission with his green grading pen. But those words stuck with me, and it helped me realize what I wanted to do in a newsroom.
During my college days, I started working part-time at The Herald-Dispatch as a sportswriter. I soon started doing some part-time work on the copy desk as well.
Days before graduation, I was offered a full-time copy editing job at The H-D. I was designing Page One most nights, and I was using the skills Turner and “Grammar God” George Arnold had preached to me for four years.
Soon, I moved to the Charleston Daily Mail. During my time there, I was a copy editor, a sportswriter, a sports copy editor, entertainment writer, movie reviewer, assistant city editor and City Editor. I also did some radio and television work as part of my Daily Mail job, and I took a lead role when the paper started its website.
After a brief return to The Herald-Dispatch as its Metro Editor, I helped start The West Virginia Record, a newspaper and website devoted to coverage of the state’s court system. I also haven been fortunate enough to write for Herd Insider and to teach a few adjunct classes for the SOJMC in recent years. It’s been nice to keep ties to Marshall, and I hope I was able to impart some of the knowledge I learned from Dr. Turner, Dr. Arnold and others to a new generation of journalists.
But I confidently can say there isn’t a day that has gone by when I haven’t used the lessons I learned in my college journalism classes. That includes the information you can glean from a textbook, the institutional knowledge only a wise professor can provide or the life lessons about dealing with different types of people in and out of the newsroom.
I am living my lifelong dream of being a professional journalist. And because of that, I have been able to inform and entertain millions of readers over the years. That is a satisfaction that few people can understand outside of mass communications.
I also have been able to cover major sporting events and interview music legends. So, in a way, I also have been able to live like a pro athlete and a rock star!