Monday I started a new chapter in my journalism career: I’ve accepted a position as a digital investigative reporter for KHOU 11 News. It’s a big move in that I’ve always wanted to break into the investigative game. It dates back to all those years ago when I first seriously considered pursuing a career as a journalist.
It was January 2007. I had just finished my first semester of college at North Lake College and had nearly burnt myself out after loading up on science courses with the thought I was going to pursue a career as a forensic scientist. The TV show CSI was one of the most popular on TV then and I thought that they had the coolest job. That was until I had an 8 a.m. Chemistry class MWF with a teacher I couldn’t understand followed by lab that shut down every part of my brain.
OK, so science was out. What’s next? I’ve loved writing all my life, and every day that first semester I passed by the school newspaper offices and looked down the hallway with a genuine curiosity. Some days I convinced myself I should stop in. I never did.
But in my second semester I did something crazy: I signed up for an intro to journalism class. I was both excited and nervous that first day, feelings that quickly subsided that first day when the teacher was 5…10…15 minutes late. Rumblings began around the classroom of how long do we have to wait for the teacher before we could rightfully leave? We all agreed on 20 minutes. It must have been 19:59 when finally this tall, older man stumbled through the door, profusely apologizing for the delay.
He breathed heavily as he wrote his name on the whiteboard in near illegible handwriting: Bill Lodge. He introduced himself as a former reporter at The Dallas Morning News for 26 years who recently took a buyout that was offered by the newspaper. With some extra free time, he turned to teacher, the first time he’d ever done so.
Bill opened our textbook and began teaching chapter by chapter about the history of journalism, which was interesting at times, but what I really cared about where his stories for his time at DMN.
He shared long tales about how he uncovered corruption in Dallas, hounded people until they finally gave him an interview, and the joys of seeing the payoff of your work in the paper for thousands to read. I wanted to be nothing more than a print reporter. Problem was, I was sitting in an intro to journalism class and still too scared to cross the threshold into the newsroom for the student paper, the News-Register.
So I sat through the class, where Bill showed up late, taught awkwardly out of a textbook, sometimes shared his stories of the glory days at DMN. Students snickered as he taught, some dropped the class, others there only for the easy grade.
I write this not to be mean. I consider Bill a mentor and a great friend, one whom I can call or email to this day, 10 years later, asking for advice or to just shoot the shit. I write all this as part of the experience that led me to where I am today.
Finally, midway through the semester Bill gave us our first extra credit assignment: write an op-ed about smoking on campus that would be published in the newspaper—and we didn’t even have to step foot in the newsroom. HELL YES COUNT ME IN!
Seeing my name in print, even if it was tied to a 125-word opinion piece, was one of the best feelings of my life. I felt as confident as ever and ready to tackle the world of journalism—Woodward and Bernstein here I come!
Not long after, Bill assigned my first real reporting gig: a symposium in the campus foyer about gender in politics with a panel of five teachers. Hot damn I was on my way. I had my notebook, extra pens and was ready to write a front-page piece.
I turned in the assignment certain it was one of the best things I’d ever written. I had spent hours mulling over every word, double checked my spelling and punctuation (of which I’d later learn was still way wrong) and sent off my masterpiece. It wasn’t until weeks later (the N-R is published monthly) that I found my story buried on page 10 of the campus life section…and what was that…that story has my headline, but I didn’t write those words. What the hell?
Turns out I had a lot to learn about journalistic writing than I thought, and that my free time dabble wasn’t going to cut it.
I thank Bill for sticking with me and sharing his mass amounts of knowledge about great writing and storytelling. Not only did he help me develop my skills at North Lake but he helped me land a steady freelance gig at DMN at a time when I was still too raw of a reporter, but one I held for four years and racked up more than enough shares of bylines.
Now I’m sitting here settling in to my biggest job to date, reminiscing on where it all started: a young pup to a reporter in the fourth largest city in America.
It’s time to uncover corruption in this city, hound people for interviews, write great stories and, at the end of the day, hope I’ve made a difference.