…beginning in five days.
For now, cue the obligatory think-back-on-the-past-year reflection. Sorry. (I promise Paris talk is coming soon, and that’ll be way cooler.)
Still unconditionally in love with UNC-Chapel Hill, still a student journalist, still yelling at the TV a great deal (probably more) during Carolina football and basketball games. Same reddish brown hair — though I’ve chopped off about a foot of it. Changed one of my college majors, sort of. My close friends, boyfriend and family are as wonderful as they always have been.
Not really riding horses. Didn’t even sit on one until Dec. 28, and for me that’s just embarrassing.
Writing? Yeah, guess I’ve been doing some of that.
It’s probably been the majority of my year — and the majority of the change it brought.
I’m no longer defined as an equestrian-writing, numbers-hating, political novice reporter like I was at this time last year. I’m kind of a policy guru who has read more than a few legislative bills. I’m forever grateful for think tanks. And I love me some state budget, mhmm.
Call me cheesy, but it really did seem as though one day I was taking photos and reporting at a Moore County horseback riding competition and the next I was in the midst of roaring Moral Monday protesters risking arrest in the gallery of North Carolina’s state legislative building.
In January 2013, I was living the life of people profiles and feature stories and loving it, primarily through the Hoofbeats (equestrian news) page of The Pilot, my hometown newspaper. I could also sit through a city council meeting and generally pay enough attention to scrap together a recap. And I could write a lighthearted column or two (“A Horse as a College Roommate” was definitely a favorite).
I had already been on staff at The Daily Tar Heel’s State & National desk, but that spring saw me “digging” for stories like I’d never digged before.
One about potential pay raises for UNC-CH’s incoming chancellor (and goodness knows people are touchy about talking salary hikes when public universities don’t have a lot of dough as is). Another looked at the state’s (technically outlawed) payday lending industry and why some legislators wanted to bring the practice back. Don’t tell my former editor I literally had no clue what the thing even was two days before the story ran.
That semester at the DTH stretched into a summer job as the paper’s State & National editor — a position that at the start left me quite afraid I was in over my head, but ended up making me a state government aficionado at a time when the N.C. state government was conveniently, but often unfortunately, increasing its national media prominence.
It might have been those Moral Monday civil disobedience protests in Raleigh that really got me hooked. They defined state newspapers’ summer government coverage. All politics aside, there was an intangible energy that came with standing among the chanting, singing, sign-waving crowds. People clearly cared, and so I cared.
The culmination of the crazy summer months was a little abortion bill that in July drew fire, praise and protest all at once and bitterly divided legislators almost cleanly down party lines. Add that shenanigans to public outcry and controversies surrounding new voting laws and public education policies, and you’ve got a journalist’s dream legislative session on your hands.
This fall, much of the State & National desk’s coverage has been following North Carolina’s public universities as they try to do some damage control on campus while their budgets continue to shrink. I’ve written a couple of pieces myself. Juicy numbers, lots of sources, stories that people have reacted to both positively and negatively. Stories that I’m proud of, stories that seem to matter.
But why did I first get into journalism? The people. Being the means through which people tell their incredibly interesting and diverse stories, no matter whether there’s an “important” label on them. Phone interviews used to be the bane of my existence — I wanted to meet the people, watch them interact with others and get to know them, not play the interrogator. But I’ve only done one in-person interview that I can remember in the last five months.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve lost some of the people aspect for a lot more policy during these last 12 months.
Is that bad? Good? Is it where I want to be?
As this new year begins, I might not find an answer to that question. Next up is four months in Paris, a totally different, albeit wonderful, ballgame. Then I’m interning as a copy editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer — satisfying a lifelong dream of getting paid to be a Grammar Nazi.
So where does that leave me? Probably more confused about my career than ever before. And whether journalism is even where I’ll end up.
Though that’s almost appropriate. As I write this, I can see a big black suitcase out of the corner of my eye, the one into which I’m supposed to pack my life away while abroad and this summer when I go up North. It’ll be the longest I’ve ever left North Carolina.
It’s going to be confusing not to be here at all. To see my friends at the newspaper go back to the daily grind without me. To see political horserace-type primary elections transpire while I’m more than a thousand miles away. To live in big cities when I grew up in a little southern town of barely 10,000 people. But it’s a positive confusion, in a way.
I’m so lucky and blessed to have these opportunities. With that in mind, I’m going to embrace the unfamiliar and make this new year count.
Maybe I will find some answers. Or maybe I’ll just do what a journalist has gotta do — when in doubt, keep asking questions.