Hitting the fork in the trail (in the company of more trees)

Posted: November 10, 2011 in employment, journalism

Welcome to the journey.

Where are you headed on this steep, short hike of life? As we pause here in this forest of thought we should savor the company of trees.

Here’s the original idea behind the repurposed journalist blog:
Seattle TV news journalist savors the art of storytelling. In it he finds his purpose. But deadline after deadline he grows increasingly weary of local TV news. With every pre-dawn hard news live shot he feels significance draining from his career. Finally at 50, he’s had enough. He quits. He accepts a job at an international charity, developing stories about those living in extreme poverty, especially children. His job is now to share those stories with local, regional and national journalists he once worked with. He begins to find significance in Life after the Newsroom. An interest in digital media begins to grow. He’s on a journey of self discovery across a new and unfamiliar landscape. And it feel like the trail is still pretty steep.

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I wanted to be a reporter since my eighth grade teacher told me I should write. As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I watched Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road” reports on CBS News and knew that’s what I wanted to do one day. But I’ve written thousands of stories in the 25 years I worked as a TV news reporter in the Midwest and here the Pacific Northwest. I’ve won dozens of national, regional and local awards for journalism excellence. I’m proud of the body of work I’ve left behind but I’ve written plenty of forgettable fast food stinkers. McDonald’s serves food designed to fill you up and get you on your way. But hamburger is not a prime cut. On occasion I’d be able to win the fight with the desk or the producer and get enough time to sink my teeth into the juicy red meat of a real story, one with passion and character. But more and more I was finding that I couldn’t tell stories the way they deserved to be told. There wasn’t time. I liked the taste of sirloin and all they seemed to be serving me was ground beef.

At times in my career I got the opportunity to tell stories. In Spokane and later in Seattle, my “Positively Northwest” features won plenty of Emmy Awards. But soon, long-form features became a luxury that local stations couldn’t afford to produce. They aired three times a week. Eventually, stations were demanding a story every day. And soon they didn’t want feature stories. They wanted “hard news.” Once a consultant came to the station I was working at and told me, “features are the F-word.” News directors would talk about “story count” as if more forgettable stories were better than just a few. Pacing was everything. But as the pace went up and the quality seemed to go down, it began to dawn on me that I wasn’t having fun and more importantly, I wasn’t making a difference.

Every time there was an earthquake, flood or famine I’d find myself making the 30 mile drive down I-5 to Federal Way’s World Vision, an international non-profit, looking for an interview. World Vision responds to disasters all over the world, providing life-saving assistance. World Vision is a source of hope for 100 million people living in extreme poverty all around the world. It was a local-based charity with international reach. Little did I know that as I approached my 50th birthday, this charity would become a source of something just as powerful – for me. The steep trail through the forest was about to hit a fork. My hike was about to get interesting.

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Comments
  1. Dan says:

    Great Read John – well done. Thank you for telling the stories of children and thank you for all of your help telling the Hoops of Hope story.

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