Farewell To The First Job I Ever Loved
In most of February and early March of 2017, I was not sure if I would ever work in journalism again. I had quit a job as a general assignment reporter in Beloit at the end of that January, having succumbed to burnout and trauma stemming partly from covering a shooting of a 16-year-old father right before Christmas.
Over that first month of unemployment, things got a lot worse without even a hint they would get better. I felt like damaged goods, that every other job in journalism would be just as demanding and I would never measure up anywhere. I sought therapy, but moments of doubt were still creeping in. Things all came to a head in early March of that year when my then-long-distance girlfriend called for a welfare check on me out of concern for my safety.
A middle-aged male police officer and a rookie female officer around my age came to my door. I explained my situation, and the trauma of covering the shooting that had sent me on my present spiral. The toughest part of living through that experience was that any time I would try to explain it, I would get the same well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful response: “I can’t imagine.”
I fully expected to hear the same from these two officers, but to my surprise the young female officer chimed in. She had been on duty for that same December shooting, and it was her first experience of that nature on the job as well. I could finally look someone in the eye who understood what I was going through.
All that searching for someone to acknowledge I was not alone in my pain, and God had sent the one person who knew what it was like to be in my shoes to my door. The very next morning, inspired by God meeting me where I was through that encounter, I sent off three job applications. By the time I sat down to lunch with my dad that same day, I had heard back on one via an interview request from Andrew Dannehy for the Trempealeau County Times.
This job saved my career. Heck, it may have even saved my life.
Andrew and Chuck Gauger took a chance on me when they brought me aboard, but they refused to let me fail. Their confidence and faith in me helped me find the same within myself. Hardly a day of my four-plus years here felt like work either, as everything from marathon school board meetings to all-day state track meets had purpose and intrigue. While I could sense a rightful need to build trust and credibility as an outsider with no pre-existing ties to the area, it was one of my great joys to see those efforts honored over time.
In an era where journalism has been squeezed tighter and tighter, I took immense pride in all we were able to get to during my tenure. Whether it be a couple 8 a.m. Blair-Taylor state softball tournament games (one of which was in Madison after I attended a wedding the night before in Chicago), or a Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau girls basketball state tournament game in Green Bay I had to borrow a friend’s car to get to after mine broke down. It was my pleasure to follow so many brilliant teams and individual athletes through the exciting conclusions to historic seasons.
I also truly appreciate the readers for the significant degree of support I have received of my use of this space. Your feedback greatly informed my submissions for “Best Local Sports Column” that led to the second-place award I received from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association this past year.
As for my next step, I am leaving the Times to pursue a prep sports reporter position in the Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK of newspapers, based out of Stevens Point. As word has gotten around of my departure, some have told me they hope to follow my work in the future. It is deeply humbling to me to think some may see my byline elsewhere, and think back to a time when I would tuck myself in a doorframe along the baseline at Russ Lund Gymnasium for a G-E-T basketball game. I will frequently look back on those days as well, along with the memories of so many fantastic games and gorgeous views across the rolling hills of this beautiful county.
At one of my final photo assignments at the Trempealeau County Fair last week, the Rhythm Playboys were just starting to draw my ire as they passed the hour mark of what was promised to be a 45-minute set. Suddenly, they launched into “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” The tune felt poetic, as it appears in the finale of one of my favorite journalism-based shows, “The Newsroom.” As I say my final farewell to the first job I ever loved, I will borrow the words of Tom T. Hall:
“Thank you for your precious time, forgive me if I start to cryin’”
That’s how I got to Whitehall.