Every year some research firm ranks 200 kinds of jobs from best to worst, and being a reporter is usually within 15 spots of the bottom, ranked among low-paying industrial jobs and garbage collectors. The stress is high, the pay is low and the industry is shrinking, more rapidly than any out there.
So it seems like a no-brainer to leave a reporting job behind, right? And yet somehow it isn’t.
I’ve been a reporter for a decade now. Adventurous Kate astutely guessed correctly: for the past five years I’ve been a sports writer. Three previous years were spent mostly as a political reporter while occasionally covering the courts system. But really, in this age where reporters are expected to do increasingly more with fewer resources, my career has been a cornucopia of experiences, ranging from the mundane to life-and-death.
I worked at newspapers for three years, and the last seven have been at one of the world’s largest news agencies. You probably encounter work by the AP on a daily basis without even realizing it. Maybe on Huffington Post or on your local nightly news or on Google News or in your local newspaper. (One of those stories is of my doing, and it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to figure out which.)
As I was cleaning off my desk in the office I rarely see, I went through a stack of old newspapers that included some of my better work or most intense assignments. Dunkin’ Donuts’ first Southern test market (six years later, they’re everywhere). The trial of a woman who killed her preacher husband by shooting him in the back in Selmer, Tenn., which hadn’t seen so much excitement since Buford Pusser roamed the streets (the jury determined it voluntary manslaughter, not murder). Two sessions of the Tennessee legislature, back when it was run by the blue-dog Democrats (the Republicans are in charge now). The U.S. Senate race to replace Bill Frist, featuring now-Sen. Bob Corker and former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (I choose not to link to any remaining online versions of my stories, because most of them come with nasty, polarizing commentary). And the tornadoes. So many tornadoes.
The past five years have been spent mostly focused on college football and basketball, with my primary beat the University of Tennessee’s athletics teams. I’ve covered nearly every football and men’s and women’s basketball game that’s happened in Knoxville in that time, and I’ve covered sporting events ranging from NFL to NHL to the NCAA golf national championship in a three-hour radius. Between the time I turned in my notice to AP two weeks ago and now, I covered two rounds of the NCAA tournament, which is kind of an intense assignment to have during a period where most people phone it in.
the view from my seat during the 2009 NCAA tournament Memphis regional. that’s Clark Kellogg interviewing UNC coach Roy Williams and Ty Lawson about being headed to the Final Four. they would go on to win the national championship that year.
Journalism was never something I dreamed of doing as a kid, but I figured it to be a way I could get paid regularly for my writing. The paychecks were decent; the prestige of writing for a national (and at times international) audience was even better. The hours have always sucked and have slowly taken their toll, the bosses can be crazy and some of the assignments have been brutal. But there have been just enough fantastic moments to keep me doing it. Succeeding as a woman in the male-dominated sports writing industry is something I’m immensely proud of, but it isn’t enough to make me want to stay. I am simultaneously crushed and relieved to be leaving it behind.
I’m taking most of this week off to rest, to catch up on the doctors’ appointments I’ve put off in the crush of basketball tournament time, to get some stuff around the house, to possibly see some family I haven’t seen in a while and to effectively mark this major change in my life. A week from today I’ll be starting at my new sort-of writing job in the non-daily news segment of the media industry. Deep down in my gut, I’ve known for a long time that journalism wasn’t the right job for me, and I think I’ve finally found something that is a far better fit.