Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Recovering journalist: March 16, 2008

Leaving the newsroom was so hard, for so many reasons. Nearly four years after I peeled the 'press' stickers off my car, I still have a little reflexive deadline panic anytime I see a big story breaking. And I still miss the hell out of the quirky, talented, irreverent cast of characters that made up my work family. 

Newsrooms are intense, fun, wonderful, awful, exhausting places. I was so lucky to get paid to hang around one for so long. A lot of people never figure out what they were born to do, let alone get to do it.

So long, farewell, just get in the car already

    I hate goodbyes. When I was growing up in the Army, we moved all the time. Every couple of years we’d pack everything up and go. I usually told people I was leaving, but I never made a big deal out of it. Wave goodbye and just get in the car already.

    I’m trying not to make a big deal out of it this time, either. But I’m having a hard time packing up and disappearing the way I used to. I guess that’s because I’ve never spent 11 years anywhere before. And that’s how long I worked at this newspaper. Well, 10 years and 9 months. But who’s counting?

    In the ways that matter, I grew up in this place. I started out in 1995 as a 23-year-old summer intern at The Chattanooga Times. Then I spent a couple of years commuting to the newspaper in Dalton, Ga., and begging the Times to hire me. In June 1997, when they finally did, I was so happy I cried.

    I was right to be happy. This is a wonderful job. It doesn’t pay much starting out (which all reporters know going in), but I got to go everywhere, see everything and write about it. I had a license to ask every nosy question that came into my head. I got to live in a city I had grown to love and do the work I wanted to do. Who could want more?

    When I married in 1999, a news photographer friend (long married to my editor friend) shot the wedding. As I said my vows, the pews were full of my colleagues — writers, editors, photographers. (If there had been any sort of news event in that church, it would have been really thoroughly covered.)

    I worked through my first pregnancy in 2000, laboring (appropriately enough) for nine months on an eight-day series of articles that was published just before my son, Jack, arrived. I worked right up to the day before he was born, when my boss eyed my enormous stomach and said, “You’re so ready your eyes are dilated.”

    Five years later, the night before my second son was born, I left from a Thursday evening shift editing stories by handing in my timesheet and telling my boss I didn’t know if I’d be in the next day.

    “I know it’s not Friday and this timesheet isn’t due yet,” I said, “but I’ve got a feeling I won’t be here tomorrow.”

    Ben arrived about 12 hours later, nearly three weeks early.

    In my time as a reporter, editor and columnist, I have covered post-Katrina New Orleans and the war in Iraq. I’ve lived in public housing and ridden along with Chattanooga police officers on patrol. I’ve been to fires, floods, car crashes and funerals. I’ve covered Fourth of July fireworks and written about the quirks of Southern culture. I’ve written stories that left me weeping and stories that had me grinning as I typed.

    Through it all, the people I work with have become beloved friends. Some have been around since the beginning. Others have arrived in the last few years. But what has kept me coming back day after day after day are the people who produce this newspaper 365 times a year.

    Dozens of my colleagues hit the front door of this place every 24 hours with a plan and a big pile of optimism that they can get it done. They start from scratch every single morning. And it takes a lot of really amazing people to make that happen.

    But I’m leaving. I have a chance to do something utterly different, to learn new skills and find out what the world looks like from a different perspective. Leaving journalism is hard, but it’s also wonderful and exciting and strange.

    The Army brat in me is absolutely loving all this upheaval. The Army brat in me wants to wave goodbye and just get in the car already. Just head to my new job and dig in and get started.

    The rest of me wants to hold on to these people who taught me to tell a story, to meet a deadline, to never, ever take no for an answer. These people who taught me about toughness, kindness, persistence and optimism. These people who showed me how to get it done and then counted on me to do it.

    Thanks to my bosses (here and there) I’ll still get to write this column. And I expect I’ll have some stories to tell about reinventing myself at age 36, about the trials and joys of leaving the place I’ve called my professional home for most of my adult life. About moving on.

    And now it’s time to go. So I’ll just get in the car already. ...Wave goodbye.
The old home place. Read all about it at

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