ILLINOIS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR: SELF-ANALYTICAL ESSAY

I have a lot of people, chance events and inanimate objects to thank for showing me the world of journalism, but above all, I am grateful for airline mileage reward points.

Since freshman year, my family received Time magazine every Friday in the mail, courtesy of said reward points. I holed up in my room for an hour and read it word-for-word, leaving sticky notes on the articles, graphics and photographs I really loved, because I couldn’t bear to tear pages out. I never thought I could do the things I saw in Time.

At the end of my freshman year, my English teacher recommended me for “Journalism Lab: Yearbook.” I never knew there was a group of students who created the yearbook, let alone a yearlong class centered around making it. I went with my gut and enrolled, not knowing anything about Yearbook or anyone in the class. As a naïve little freshman, I unknowingly signed away nearly all my free time with one fell swoop of a ballpoint pen.

I didn’t mean for Yearbook to consume my life, but I couldn’t help it. As a measly, doe-eyed, first-year staffer, I wanted to do it all. I wrote one of my first articles about a deaf soccer player and toted my cheap point-and-shoot camera to every school function in hopes of learning the tools of the trade on my own.

The summer before junior year, I attended the Ball State University Summer Journalism Program, where I picked up my design, graphic and layout abilities. For an article from the writing portion of the camp, I spent ten minutes pacing the floor before I worked up the courage to approach a blind professor with a guide dog and interview him.

I interviewed for the Editor-in-Chief position my junior year as proof of my ambition, but ended up as the Organizations Editor. Within the first week of my new role, I had individually emailed each club sponsor of the 80+ clubs at my school to add me to their club’s mailing list and keep me up-to-date on club happenings. I dove headfirst into my work as an editor and created a monster spreadsheet to organize every detail of my section.

As spring came around, so did the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Journalism competition. I competed for the first time in both Infographics and Yearbook Layout Design and ended up winning 5th in state for the former and State Champion for the latter. By the end of the year, not only was our staff third in IHSA state, but we had also produced an All-American award winning and Gold certified yearbook.

I had been spending all my time in the Journalism room to the point where my friends and family looked there first when they didn’t know where I was. To me, the smudged white board, the endless stacks of yearbooks and the ratty couch decaying in the corner all constituted my sanctuary. One of the only places I could go to feel truly content.

But at one point, I was on the cusp of burning out. I was stressing over Yearbook more frequently than enjoying it. I began to see it as a chore. But, just when I thought I wanted to retire from writing, I interviewed a woman from my school’s first graduating class, whose passion for the school refreshed me compared to the apathy of our current students. Just when I thought photography was overrated, I took over 700 stunning photos at the football playoff game. And just when graphics became too tedious, I poured over an InDesign file for hours experimenting with different tools to create a single infographic.

Throughout my high school journalism career, I’ve learned that my strongest quality is that I’m a versatile, adaptive, jack-of-all-trades. Not only was I proficient in Yearbook, but also throughout my time on the Stinger Newsmagazine as Ads, Photo and Web Editor and as the Executive Producer of the Multimedia Club, I picked up journalism tips and tricks otherwise overlooked in Yearbook, like opinion writing and producing timely news stories.  For the Stinger, I wrote my first-ever perspectives article about shaving my head for St. Baldrick’s, a children’s cancer organization.

I took all I’ve learned from Journalism to the Speech Team and had a successful season, winning 9th in IHSA State. As if I hadn’t involved myself enough in school activities, I devoted myself to Speech practices and competitions as a Radio Speaker. I found it relevant to journalism and was able to refine my word choice and newsworthiness every week, preparing five-minute broadcasts of the latest news, sports and weather. Although I initially took on Speech as a hobby, it became an integral part in my development as a journalist.

The summer going into my senior year, I attended the Medill-Cherubs Northwestern Summer Journalism Program. For an article, the professor assigned the infamous 1,600 word-long trend story. I set out to find a lead that would define my article on virtual communities, but ended up finding one that defined my young journalism career. I contacted a woman on change.org who started a virtual petition to erect a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge because her son had committed suicide from it. Our hour-long, emotional phone conversation resulted in tears, an incredible interview and an equally strong story. It taught me that people will always have a story they need to tell, and the world always has stories it needs to hear. It taught me that journalism is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

So as the dust collects on the heaps of red-bordered Time magazines in my basement, I will never forget where my love for journalism first began. A smaller pile of ten issues sits in a tidy stack in my room, ready to be packed away when I leave home for the University of Missouri. As I major in Journalism, I will continue to hone my creativity in design, sharpen my reporting skills and perfect my photo composition techniques. I know what I want to do with my life and where I want to start my journey. I may have my fair share of moments when I begin to feel rusty, but journalism’s constantly evolving landscape will never cease to interest me. Just as I took everything high school journalism has taught me and grew from it, journalism takes the new technological mediums and adapts to suite its audience. I really never understood why people called Journalism a dying industry. For me, Journalism will never get old. My vision for the future of Journalism is one that is timeless, but undoubtedly not Time-less.