My father began working on a journalism degree in 1970. He often took me to the university when he worked on the school newspaper, the Almagest. I was entranced by what I saw, especially in the frantic day or two before deadline.
In 1973 he started working on the local morning daily, The Shreveport Times. My mom and I frequently visited. The three-story-tall presses were monstrous, imposing. And I'll never forget the noise of the linotypes.
I have a spiritual experience every time I see one of those old machines.
My dad pursued his degree during the height of the Watergate era. In my teen-age years, when my dad was on the City Desk, we had a local "Watergate." Our "Public Safety" commissioner, George D'Artois, tried to pay for campaign ads with city funds. The ad executive, Jim Leslie, told The Times, but paid for his honesty with a fatal shotgun blast in the back. The paper received several bomb threats, reporters and editors were threatened, and I was told not to ride my bicycle through the neighborhood at night. Well, that was JUST TOO MUCH! But it was exciting...
I went to college to become a scientist. In 1985, after my first attempt at a Masters degree fell apart, and a three-week stint as editor of a weekly newspaper, Gerry Robichaux, the Sports Editor at The Times, hired me as office help. The desk man, John Leydon, didn't like to see me bored, so he got me started editing copy and writing headlines. Later, I began to cover events. I loved the work. I loved it so much I quit medical school for it, only to get laid off by a new sports editor six months later in August 1987.
In 1991 I started working as a stringer for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va. I had begun a Ph.D. program at the University of Virginia and needed the money. Formerly I hid behind AP style, but I began to take chances and improve as a writer. Oh, and how I still loved the work! The adrenaline rush of getting back to the newsroom after a 50-mile drive and banging out a damned good story in 30 to 45 minutes, of dictating off the top of my head after the laptop died with 15 minutes to go before deadline, and of dealing with the community even when it didn't like what I or one of my colleagues wrote, is powerful.
Being stubborn, I've had a difficult time accepting the fact that I'm much happier working as a journalist than in the Ivory Tower of science. I was close to acceptance in 1987, but circumstances intervened. I dutifully returned to the tower, but the newsroom keeps calling.
I realize I have a gift, the ability to communicate with the public on scientific and environmental issues. The Columbia Journalism program will enhance my skills, enable me to achieve my best as a journalist.