I teach journalism and advise the staff of The Independent, the print and online student news publication at Clark College in southwest Washington.
I love many aspects of teaching and advising. But above all, I value the opportunity to introduce young people to a career that has given me so much — professionally and personally.
My roots in the news industry do run deep. More than 30 years ago I filed one of my first news feature stories, a little yarn about a Sacramento-area high school gymnast who was a Hawaiian princess by birth. The piece caught the eye of an editor at McClatchy Newspapers, who in turn gave me a call and then a shot at covering semi-pro ice hockey. From a short stint writing about hat tricks and craziness on and off the rink, I moved on to the other requisite beats of a young reporter — city government, general assignment, education, transportation and religion.
During those dozen years with McClatchy Newspapers, mostly at the Fresno Bee, I knocked out news and features on all sorts of topics — veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder trying to rebuild their lives, freak August snowstorms in the Sierra and the rough-and-tumble world of small-town politics where City Hall shenanigans were almost as wild as the annual rodeo. I spent a fair share of Sunday afternoons rifling through police incident reports and churning out obits. But my favorite assignment was helping set up a make-shift news bureau after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake knocked the stuffing out of Coalinga, a sleepy little farm town 60 miles southwest of Fresno. The Pulitzer Prize committee thought highly enough of our coverage to name us finalists behind Newsday for its coverage of Baby Jane Doe. It was thrilling to be the bridesmaid, if not the bride.
I took off a few years to have babies and got them both through diapers before I went on to communications work for a health-maintenance organization. From there it was to writing about the challenges and accomplishments of female engineers in a mostly male-dominated world before I headed back to school for a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. Then it was on to teaching.
Sometimes, when I’m not grading stories, planning lessons or trying to keep up with the head-spinning changes in journalism today, I muse about whether indeed I was born with a journalism gene.
My memory is clear. I was no more than 12 when I positioned my fingers on the keyboard of my mother’s tall black Underwood typewriter. There I sat, banging out my own newspaper for neighbors, informing them about the latest happenings on Pacific Street, lost pets, birthday parties and new recipes moms were testing.