Friday was my first night manning the high school sports desk at a major metropolitan newspaper for the opening day of football season.
And it was also my last.
I’ve been trying to break up with the abusive boyfriend of journalism for about two years now, only to keep getting sucked back into the career that has been my life for the past 15 years. It’s really the only thing I know how to do – and I do it very well. It’s a love-hate relationship of the thrill of turning a huge breaking story on an impossible deadline while dodging the layoff bullet in an ever-changing, low-paying, crappy-hours industry.
I’ve always said every time we run an obituary, we lose a subscriber. It really is a dying industry.
When I walked out of the Shreveport Times newsroom in December 2013, I thought it was finally over. I was relieved – I was about to get my life back. No more watching first responders pull a lifeless body from a mangled vehicle. No more watching a home burn to the ground at 2 a.m. No more half-day city council meetings listing to politicians argue about nothing. No more feigning interest in some do-gooder’s fundraising efforts.
I was ready to make a change. As I prepared to head back to college to obtain the degree I had never had time to get in all those years of chasing police chasing crackheads, I moved back to my hometown of Minden, Louisiana, in hopes of using those old newspaper contacts to get a part-time job while I pursued my education.
The only job I could find – a reporter’s gig at the Minden Press-Herald, the place where my career began so many years ago. But in my time away, I had outgrown the small town that closes at 10 p.m. and lacks a good wind-down dive bar. I missed the hustle and bustle of city life so I made my way south and enrolled in the University of New Orleans in August 2014.
I tried to find a job on campus to no avail. I tried to find jobs at various public relations and marketing organizations, but this is the south. It’s not what you know, but who you know. And I didn’t know anybody – except reporters.
I agreed to an interview with the head of the high school sports section for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune in September with every intention of turning down the job. I wasn’t a sports writer and never had any ambition to be such. The only thing I knew about soccer was that Posh Spice was married to David Beckham who was a soccer player.
And that’s exactly what I said in the interview.
“How many people have you killed?” my interviewer asked.
Baffled, I said, “None.”
“How many homicides have you written about?”
Ohhhhh…. I get it. You don’t have to be able to do it to be able to write about it.
Then he told me how flexible they would be with my schedule. Then he told me I would only work one Saturday a month. Then he told me though I would mainly be on the desk, I would be covering some games out of the office too. Then he told me what they were going to pay me – which was a far cry from what any other part-time college student gig would have paid.
I couldn’t turn it down.
I was back. And just like tax millages and law jargon, I learned how to write in the proper lingo. But this time was different – it wasn’t my career, it was a means to an end. It was just a job. Still I enjoyed it. I was interviewing kids on their way to being the next generation of college and NFL superstars. When I was at work, I was at a game.
But then I began to realize if I ever was going to transition into my new field, I needed to let go and MAKE the transition, even if it meant starting at the bottom. I was never going to make those needed contacts in the business world if I didn’t try. And as with all newsrooms in the country, layoff rumors are always swirling. Though more and more they are proving to be more than rumor as many of my former co-workers from newspapers around the country find themselves being thrown from the ship before it sinks completely.
Though my ship hasn’t sank, it’s time for me to abandon. Time to cut the proverbial umbilical cord. Time to use the career in which I grew up to move into the adult world.
I got dumb lucky once again and found a great job within UNO’s College of Business as an assistant career coach helping students perfect their resumes and interview skills. I don’t know if I’m molding young minds or warping them, but it’s a step in the right direction to where I want to be once I graduate.
And that leaves me here. On the 31st floor of the Offices at Canal Place updating football scores from last night and inputting remaining volleyball schedules. My final duties as a journalist. The newsroom is empty, quiet except for the chatter coming from the police scanner – an environment that soothes me to my very soul as that was how I spent so many nights while on the crime beat.
I know it’s for real this time. That when I leave my computer and press badge on my boss’ desk, I won’t be back. I never once cried at a crime scene, but I find myself fighting back tears as the finality of it all sinks in. It’s very bittersweet.
It’s human nature to fight change, to stay within our comfort zones. It’s easy to embrace familiarity rather than venture fearlessly into the unknown. Ten years ago, I thought I would be at the Minden Press-Herald until they carried me out and put me in a hearse – I also thought I’d still be married to that same guy too, still shopping at the same Walmart, still getting gas at the same Exxon. Maybe that’s why I’ve stayed with journalism for so long – it is the only thing that has stayed constant in my life as they years have passed. I may have had different last names, but I was always “Kristi from the newspaper.” I think journalists have a difficult time separating who they are from what they do – I know I have.
But as I sit here today, I’m not at “my desk.” I’m at one of many unassigned work stations on a laptop, still writing, still telling stories. I may never have a byline in newsprint ever again, but I will always have the ability to experience life and write a story about it. And you can quote me on that.