Jumping off the journalism train: A writer looks back at 20 years in the trade

MARK 1

I never set out to be a journalist.

Armed with an English degree with a concentration in post modern literature, I was candidly hapless and untethered after I graduated college. A career in graduate studies had been jettisoned by a malevolent professor who sabotaged that plan and I had no idea what to do with my life. So, I returned to trying to make it as a professional musician and songwriter. I fumbled along with a few successes and more failures, but was at least tenacious.

So for three years after graduating college, I drifted, or rather stumbled along living in four cities in three states. Sleeping on several floors of friends’ homes and living in my car. I played music three or four nights a week in a variety of ensembles and bands and during the day worked a variety of jobs including general construction, men’s clothier and book seller.

It was one of the darkest periods of my life. I’ve had some amazing experiences playing and writing music, but that period was not one of them. The late nights, pandering to crowds, competitive sycophantic atmosphere, enduring low pay and the constant surrounding of drunks and smokers was far from uplifting.

Yes, I drifted.

So, when I took the plunge into the newspaper world, I was beyond desperate to do something that I considered meaningful. Though I had sworn I would never work for a newspaper, I needed to do something with the degree I had sweated to earn and the talents God had given me.

That was almost 20 years ago. On, January 5, 1998 I began as a general assignment reporter with the Douglas Neighbor, a weekly newspaper in the Atlanta suburbs.

I then dedicated two decades to the publishing world of newspapers and, later, magazines. And what a journey it was. Though I met presidents, interviewed over a dozen members of the U.S. Congress, exchanged pleasantries with celebrities and rubbed shoulders with the ‘elite’ I always found my greatest joy and fulfillment in writing stories about people. Feature stories. Human interest pieces. Pieces that connected readers to each other and explored our collective humanity, our shared hopes and joys and fears and tied us together.

I spent a morning in the Cobb County Jail where I attended a worship service and wrote an article on Prison Ministry. I spent an afternoon at a racial building event in Acworth and when the group opened the event with a prayer, I broke the cardinal rule of ‘only observing and not participating’ and joined hands with those around me and bowed my head.

Ah, 20 years. Time flies.

I won’t go over point-by-point on my career, but it was an eventful 20 years. I was threatened on the phone and in person, had anonymous nasty letters sent to me and was accosted by politicians at public meetings. I was also the recipient of thank you phone calls and dozens of notes and cards from readers whose lives I chronicled or nonprofits I had written a piece about.

And I worked across the industry. Editor. Writer. Managing editor. Magazine director. Photographer. Copy desk chief. Graphic Designer. Videographer. Web designer. Sports writer.

You name it, I did it.

MARK 6.jpg

One of the last days in the office. Thanks to Kelly J. Huff for the photos.

One of my favorite achievements was being part of a team that created our magazine division out of thin air almost 12 years ago. We launched Cobb Life and I oversaw it as it grew from 6 times a year to 11. Later, I was part of the team that also launched Cherokee Life and Cobb Business Journal. That feeling of creating a tangible product and seeing it grow out of an initial vision was an apex of my journalism career and something I will never forget.

I was also honored to receive over 20 awards from organizations including The Associated Press, Georgia Sportswriters Association and Society of Professional Journalists. The news awards were rewarding, but the awards I received from SPJ on the columns I had written for the magazine meant the most. The columns that won were about family, faith, humor and fatherhood and I beat out writers from magazines in a 17-state region to clinch those. By last count, I had been honored as a columnist more than any other writer currently working in Georgia. I don’t say that as an ego booster, but a fact. In journalism with the rough hours and low pay, we tend to love awards.

And, I got to work with some talented people. At the MDJ as a reporter, I worked for the amazing motivator, journalism genius and super smart savant Becky Smith. Becky was part of a trio of great leaders I worked for including former company president Terry Smith and my late and great friend, advertising guru Jay Whorton.

During my stint as a daily reporter, I was able to work alongside great writers such as Joel Groover, tremendous administrators like Damon Poirier and Michelle Bramlett and talented photographers Damien Guarnieri and Michael Wood.

During my tenure as managing editor of Neighbor Newspapers, I was fortunate enough to work with a ton of great folks including writers and editors Adam Miller, Jeffrey Austin, Everett Catts and Brian Clark.

Throughout the last 12 years as a magazine director, I was fortuitous enough to work with assistant directors Stacey L. Evans and LaTria Garnigan and a team of outstanding writers including Meredith Pruden, Joan Durbin, Michael Venezia, Davia Rose Lassiter and Michael J. Pallerino. Along the way, the magazines had a  cadre of super photographers including Jennifer Carter, Erin Gray Cantrell, Kelly J. Huff and Sam Bennett. The creative processes that went into producing each issue was a joy I was fortunate to share with these people.

And I made some great friends and developed some crucial relationships along the way with people like Kenneth Turner, Ron Jones, Glenn Galmish, Joan Durbin, Joel Groover and the aforementioned Jennifer ‘little sister’ Carter.

And I could write on and on and on about the people, the crazy experiences, the bizarre interviews and I am sure I will one day.

But, all things must come to an end and the chap who swore he would never work for a newspaper hung up his press passes, placed his awards in a box to gather dust and started a new career in October. I now work as an Operations Manager and Business Development for Foundation Worx. It’s a sea change, but an opportunity I am enjoying immensely.

And, not to worry, I am still writing, just not for newspapers and magazines. The Alexandria Rising Chronicles have been a ton of fun to write and sell. The third novel in the series is dropping in Winter 2018 and I’ve already got another few books and multi-media projects in the pipeline. I have discovered that I find intense pleasure in writing fiction. As much as I learned how to write tight and concise as a reporter, I am pleased to be free of the shackles of AP rules, stingy copy editors, word censors and word count.

For you readers who’ve followed my career and read my columns in Cobb Life, MDJ and Neighbor Newspapers, thank you. I will still be around and you might see my name in an op-ed here or a feature there, but, for the most part, I’ll be spending my writing time creating new worlds. In the meantime, to quote Garrison Keillor, ‘be well, do good work and keep in touch.’

Thanks for being part of the journey.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Jumping off the journalism train: A writer looks back at 20 years in the trade

  1. Good luck, Mark. Glad to see a talented writer like yourself is keeping a small part of himself in the craft with your blog. A lot has changed in the industry since our employer had only one computer wired for internet available for 20 people in the newsroom.

    Like

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