Because I have two college-aged children myself, I often think about their future and their job prospects. Their lives have a way of stirring up past memories and emotions from my life and the way I've felt about my work. In short, I love my work and I always have -- since I began it in fourth grade. If you think of that as the start, and I do, I've been in this business for more than .... well, never mind.
Yesterday, I spent the day with a high school junior named Adrianna, who told me she wants to spend every day, for the rest of her life, being a reporter. "Sweetheart," I thought, "I understand." She is editor of her high school paper, which puts her ahead of me at that time. I was a mere page editor of my high school paper, although I had already worked on two elementary school newspapers, a junior high school newspaper and Girl Scout troop newspaper.
She said she knew from the moment she began high school. In fact, her questions to me were quite specific. Where should I go to college? Is it possible to have a family and a life as a reporter, or is it an either/or kind of thing? (My answer is that it is more than possible, as long as you cope with low-level, yet persistent guilt. One day you feel guilty about neglecting your children, the next day you are guilty about cutting short the job, the next day you are guilty about snapping at your husband and your messy newspaper-piled house is a constant source of distress!)
As part of the day together, we interviewed Shannon McDonald, a 2009 Temple graduate who has started her own online newspaper, neastphilly.com. She was an editor of the Temple News (so was I) and she knew from the time she was in eighth grade that she wanted to be a reporter. Different person, same story. Amazing? Not really.
You could walk into the Inquirer newsroom, or really any newsroom, anywhere, and interview people and find that story over and over again. You'd meet people who "knew" from an early age that this should/could be their lives. We are a tribe and the newsroom atmosphere is the same, whether it's a bureau in a state house or a college newspaper office or the big block-long beautiful room where we work.
In some ways, it was thrilling for me to be with Shannon and Adrianna as we all understand ourselves to be the same despite the decades in age that separate us. In other ways, it is scary. What will happen to our profession? What will happen to me? Will I be able to finish out my career in this profession? Will Shannon and Adriana be able to make a living, as I have? I hope the answer is yes for all of us, Shannon, Adriana, me and the rest of our tribe, across the generations.