By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
I owe a young man named Travis Cameron — a student from El Dorado Springs, Mo. — a big apology.
On May 10, 2011, he wrote me a very professional, polite letter identifying himself as an eighth-grader researching careers for his English class. He said he was interested in becoming a reporter and wanted to ask me questions about my job.
I was out of the office for a few days, so the letter sat unopened in my mailbox. I opened it on May 18 and attached a pink sticky note on it marked “Write reply.” And then the Joplin tornado hit. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and eventually that letter found its way to the bottom of my desk piles and remained there for nearly two years.
I found it last week, the same day Globe reporter Wally Kennedy caught me mid-bite at lunch to ask if I could guess which career Forbes had listed as the very worst one in the world. Worse than being a lumberjack or a soldier. Bottom of the list. No. 200.
That’s right: newspaper reporter.
Not surprised. A few well-meaning folks told me in high school to walk, not run, away from this profession. Low pay. Stress. Crazy hours. Uncertain future. Etc. And I’ve been hearing that ever since. The trouble is, I love it.
I love walking up the stairs at the Globe first thing in the morning when the newsroom is still asleep, and, if it hasn’t been done already, snipping the yellow plastic band that binds a stack of the day’s papers to reveal the front page.
I love the fresh smells of ink and coffee, and the lingering scent of blood, sweat and tears it took to produce that stack of papers. I love hearing the clanks and clangs of the press deep in the belly of the Globe as the crew prepares for the next job.
I love going to a restaurant or someone’s house or a school and seeing stories that I’ve written, that my colleagues have written, up on the bulletin board or the refrigerator or framed on the wall. I love hearing from readers that something our newspaper published struck a nerve or is being sent to a relative in another state.
I love having the flexibility to work from home a few days a week and to pick up my children at 3:15 p.m., because as long as I have a notepad, pen and Internet connection, my office can be anywhere.
And it has been. It’s been on the banks of Roaring River on opening day of trout season. It’s been in my car in the parking lot at Pittsburg State University after a $5 million announcement. It’s been in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center as President Barack Obama delivered remarks to the graduating class of Joplin High School.
Sure, sometimes my office has been in my bed at 9:30 p.m. with my cellphone and laptop because that’s the only time a source can speak with me. And sure, my car has 103,000 miles on it, and my wardrobe hasn’t been updated in years.
But when those things get to me, I remind myself that that car and that wardrobe have been with me as I’ve interviewed people standing in tornado debris, a 65-year-old man who rode his bicycle across the U.S., a Medal of Honor winner receiving recognition.
I’ve seen Civil War re-enactors demonstrate loading and firing muskets. I’ve ridden in a Black Hawk helicopter with ROTC cadets and in an 18-wheeler with a long-haul trucker. I’ve spawned trout by hand, for Pete’s sake.
So, Forbes, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of my profession. Every job has its downside — you just have to figure out which downside you can live with the most.
And Travis, I’m sorry. Truly I am. If you want to do something different every day, have a burning desire to learn and see and do and then share that with others, and have supportive family members who understand when you race into the house after a late meeting and announce that you can’t eat or talk because you have a deadline to meet, then go for it.
As cliché as it may be, choose a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.
Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.