From assistant editor to temporary, part-time reporter
February 23, 2011 | 07:22 AM"I could do your job."
The woman spat her words and her whiskey stink directly in my face. Her red eyes glanced at the yellow notepad in my lap. We sat shoulder to shoulder on folding chairs in a crowded room. Everyone's chatter forged a dull roar which wasn't loud enough to drown out her words.
"I'm sure you could," I told her.
"I'm serious," she slurred, her volume increasing. "Only you guys wouldn't be able to handle someone like me."
I made the mistake of asking her why.
"Because I tell it like it is," the woman said.
Her cracked lips bled a confident smirk, as if to say she's not going to be intimidated by my pad or my pen or my press credentials. This was more than 13 years ago. It was the first time I covered a local government meeting, and it was one of the first meetings I covered for the Regional News.
For a moment, I was overwhelmed. Sure, Dennis Martin, the editor at that time, warned me there would be an angry crowd at this meeting. But sitting in a room where you're the only person who's not outraged can be a hair-raising experience — for a moment, at least. Add to that the embarrassment of being called out by a complete stranger in public.
But I had one thing in common with that woman. Whenever I read the Regional News, I thought it was dry. This was an opinion I formed when I was in my late teens, early 20s, so take that for what it's worth.
Nevertheless, it seemed people I knew only bought the paper to find out who got in trouble for what or who made the Honor Roll. When I decided to take a break from college one semester shy of a creative writing degree, someone told me the Regional News was hiring an assistant editor. It was an opportunity for me because I had some experience writing for newspapers and other publications. I had copyediting experience. Photography and layout, those things they would teach me.
So I went for it, excited about writing for a living, learning something new and possibly making the "Regional Rag" something more than just court reports and honor rolls.
I was 24 back then, and if there's one thing people my age and older know, it's that people in their 20s know everything there is to know about everything. Just ask them. Martin helped me cut through that and was the first to tell me anyone could do this job. All you have to do is show up, write down what everybody says and make sure it's exactly what they said. Take yourself out of the equation. Well, there's a lot more to it than that, but those are the fundamentals.
Then, Lisa Seiser became editor, and shortly after, we as a staff strived to write more compelling stories, take better pictures and accomplish better page layouts. As Seiser still likes to say, we're jacks of all trades but masters of none. Now, I'm not so sure about that last part, because the more you do something, the better you become at it. As for our similar goal, I think we succeeded. If we did depends on who you talk to.
Whether we did, whether I improved over the years doesn't matter because I'm taking myself out of the equation. Friday was my last day as assistant editor. I'll stay on temporarily, part-time, as a reporter. This was a decision I made two weeks ago. Since then, I've found myself reflecting uncontrollably. There was the time myself and former longtime sports editor Dan Truttschel almost got kicked out of a public library while researching a story. Or the time I couldn't get my golf cart started at Grand Geneva and Bill Murray — of all people — cruised by in his own golf cart, saying something I couldn't hear over the laughter of spectators. Or the time more people flooded the streets of Lake Geneva than I ever imagined when former U.S. President George W. Bush drove through in a glorified Greyhound bus.
Community journalism was a trial by fire for me, and as I begin my final days at the Regional News, I'm confident the paper will continue to pique my interest thanks to the fine people who work there. Part of me wishes I could've made it into the 14-year club with Martin and Truttschel — that's how long they were here before they moved on — but I'm anxious to begin the next phase of my life.
As for the woman at that meeting, I told her she should come into the office and fill out an application. If she's reading this, now may be a good time to take me up on that offer.