I have been a blessed man when it comes to my career choice thus far.
How else can I describe a journey that started in the Air Force and went to a TV station then two newspapers, eventually ascending to the senior reporter role at The Chronicle in Centralia, Washington with no college experience?
I described to a friend last week how my career in journalism began: I entered the Air Force fresh out of high school and made the choice to be an explosive ordnance disposal technician, then thought better of it and had a chance meeting with a master sergeant who offered me the chance to take a voice audition and try to see if I could become a newsreader for the American Forces Network.
I passed, and the rest is history, as they say, but there is a critical component of the four years I spent in the military that made me marketable to civilian employers despite the fact I had not set foot in a college classroom. The six months I spent deployed to Iraq as a journalist were the single most important in determining my career path.
The experience I gained as a one-man band proved invaluable. I had some great mentors in the Air Force who taught me how to shoot and edit video, write concisely, operate a radio board, speak effectively and make sure your words have the most impact.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to do contract work for a TV station in Portland at age 23, then shoot video for a newspaper’s website in Springfield, Missouri, where they let me write a few articles and taught me AP style. After I returned to the Northwest, I took my first full-time reporting position at The Chronicle, in a community in which my family has some roots — shallow somewhat, but roots nonetheless.
Funny thing, I left The Chronicle in 2012 yet came right back here last year because I missed the job and the people here a lot. I’m now in my fourth year reporting at The Chronicle.
Some stories have tugged at my heartstrings. As a military veteran, one of the most difficult stories I had to write was penned earlier this year when a local soldier took his own life after coming back from war. I still pray for his family to this day.
Other stories have been fun. Several people got a good chuckle when I began the first five paragraphs in a story about a local high school play about the ’80s with “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
But amid the hundreds of stories I’ve covered, there has been one that served as a perspective shifter that rendered me more prayerful and thoughtful since.
It was a simple assignment to visit the Lewis County Gospel Mission and report on their fundraising drive to buy the building they are renting. For those who don’t know, the Gospel Mission holds a breakfast and lunch free of charge for the needy, a clothing bank and much more with a Christian ministry.
As I visited, shot photos and talked to people for my story, I interviewed one man who said he had been in a place of destitution but it was a ministry similar to the Gospel Mission that brought him out of it. That day, he brought forth the devotion and prayed for the meal served, then went to converse with everyone who visited.
The man proceeded to tell me that his volunteerism at the mission was his way of thanking the Lord for bringing him out of a dark place.
I don’t exactly know why, but that hit me pretty hard and I began to think on the impact that people willing to serve and invest in his life had. That gentleman was a success story: a believer in Christ who is now doing ministry of his own to people who would be an afterthought to most.
I have had a heart for the destitute, disadvantaged and depressed for some time, but that visit to the Gospel Mission that day set forth something in motion in my heart in which I wanted to seek a venue to help people in similar fashion whether through my church, civic collaborative efforts or the mission itself. As I have been blessed, so I should bless others.
It’s incredibly difficult to feel a love for a community you want to get involved in, yet be restrained from helping as effectively as you know you could because of the nature of one’s job in that journalists are supposed to report without bias or favor. I’ve understood that and adhered to it, but as a man whose heart is to want to step behind the scenes and be a part of an intensifying community-wide effort to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to whosoever will hear the message, I have realized that I can’t be fully effective in that effort while at the same time employed at a news agency.
As such, I began to seek a change in career after seeking wise counsel from people I consider to be mentors.
My search has paid off, and I find myself at the end of my journalism career come this Friday with a switch to a new career beginning next week.
The end of a career choice I partially stumbled onto by chance that was guided by the hand of the Lord Himself to where I am now has brought back a flood of memories since I announced to my colleagues two weeks ago that I would be leaving the newspaper, yet staying in the local area. I’ll miss the profession and its value to the community, and there’s a big part of me that will miss coming in to proofread the paper on deadline days, in essence reading it before the general public gets to. There’s also something really neat about digging up information and knowing it before anyone else, then becoming a subject matter expert on the material.
But when I look at the big picture, I realize that the pull on my heartstrings as a result of the story I covered at the Gospel Mission was a call to listen to the Lord and where He would guide me next. At this time next week I will have started a new job, but what I think is more important is what I’m now freed up to do.
I look forward to further serving in Life Center, my church home here in Centralia. I also look forward to further helping out in ministries that until now, I could only pray for or be minimally involved in.
I look back with a major appreciation for the people who took chances on me, trained me and helped me become a better journalist. I’m going to name some names here, so here goes: Jennifer Wessner, who was my radio supervisor at Lajes Field in 2003 and taught me to have fun while effectively doing my job; Lee Lieburn, who taught me a lot of the video editing skills I know today and sang “Pigs on the Wing” duets with me a few times; the good people at Fox 12 Oregon who gave me a chance to edit and shoot video straight out of the military; Dean Curtis and Jerome Nakagawa, who were two of the better photographers I knew who taught me a lot about a subject I was interested in but didn’t know a lot of technical details of; Brian Mittge and Michael Wagar, then-editors of The Chronicle who took a flier on me in 2010 as an unproven journalist; and finally, Eric Schwartz, who hired me over the phone when I expressed a desire to come back.
There are many more people I’ve worked with over the years and have bonded with. You all are too many to name individually, but you know who you are and you played a big role in making my career something I will look back on with fondness.
I also can’t forget the people who have been gracious in letting me into their lives and tell their stories. After all, a journalism career doesn’t happen without stories to tell, and many people have given me some awesome stories.
Life as a reporter has been great, it truly has. But as a man of faith, I’ve been given a chance to switch careers and take advantage of the opportunities for ministry — and that’s a new era in life I’ll walk into wide-eyed.