Much of life is figuring out your true north.
For the last eight years, I’ve tried different types of work in different types of workplaces. Each one offered its advantages. Each one gave me a perspective that wouldn’t be possible if I’d simply toiled away in newsrooms all that time.
In working for a downtown development group, I learned about social media, marketing and life on the other side of the reporter’s notebook. A stint in Prairie Public’s education department taught me about the “learning gap” experienced by preschoolers who lived in different socioeconomic sectors. More than three years at a statewide nonprofit taught me about everything from childhood trauma to food insecurity among senior citizens.
I met cool, smart people in all of these environments, but always, in the back of my mind, I missed journalism. I missed the camaraderie created by a roomful of writers who all shared a nose for news and a deep love for the written word. I missed the enthusiasm of pitching a great story to editors, the clear structure and adrenaline-fueled pace that lent themselves so well to my ADHD brain, the excitement of sharing the stories of people from all walks of life.
Always, I felt a little lost in these other jobs — as if I was pretending to be someone I was not.
Now, once again, I’m coming back to The Forum to work as a business reporter. This Monday, Jan. 4, will be my first one as a new “old” reporter, working on a beat I’ve never covered before.
This will be my fourth time to “start” at The Forum since my very first gig as a bashful Lifestyle clerk, way back in 1985. Each time I have returned to the paper, the newsroom has changed significantly — reflecting the emergence of new media and changing readership.
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Considering the furious pace of technology these days, I anticipate that the change from 2012 to 2021 will be the most dramatic. I’ve joked that reporters must now travel with jetpacks and compose all stories via nanochips implanted in their brains.
In fact, I will be working virtually for at least a few months. There will be no casually rolling my chair back to ask the person next to me who the best person is to call for a certain topic or story. The pace of the news cycle is surely much faster and — sigh — I will have to learn yet another whole new computer system (something that seems to get slightly tougher with each year that I age.)
Naturally, all these factors are intimidating. It almost feels as scary as first walking into that newsroom back in 1985, when I learned how to type out wedding announcements on a huge, humming Video Display Terminal.
And, yet, I am excited. Yes, the many faces in the newsroom have changed. Yes, the internet has changed how individuals curate and consume news. Yes, emphasis has now shifted largely to a digital world, where it’s possible to measure the precise point in a story where readers stopped reading.
But when you get down to it, the basic tenets of this world remain. One of the advantages to arriving here on the Mayflower is that I know a lot of people. A good story is always a good story, and I can shoot an interview with my iPhone as good as the next guy.
So these repeated returns to journalism suggest that newsrooms really are my true north.
It will be nice to be “home” again.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.