As my 33rd birthday quickly approaches this week, I am going to take this opportunity and this space to reflect on my life in journalism so far. And with the relentless negativity surrounding journalists these days, from the top of the government down to people on my Facebook list, I want to express my love for the industry that has done so much for my life.
I did not always know I was going to be a journalist. I had a hint when I was 16 and joined a journalism class at my high school, David Crockett High in Jonesborough. I also had a hint that same year when I scored the highest score on a writing assessment given to high school juniors. Only two people in the class got the highest score, and I was one of them.
After high school, my life went topsy-turvy for a bit. I did not go to college after graduating but instead got big into the party scene. Life was a grand party, and I wanted to make sure I did not miss a second of it.
I floated from job to job, never staying for very long. I worked at Food Lion for a bit, then moved on to American Water Heater in Johnson City. After that, I took a job at Walmart and eventually transferred to the Walmart Distribution Center in Mosheim.
I then took a job that would forever change the course of my life. I worked as psychiatric technician at Woodridge Hospital in Johnson City. I would meet my lovely wife, Cindy, during that job, which would set me up for a future I did not know would happen.
After quitting a third shift security guard job, I found out Cindy was pregnant. I also got accepted to East Tennessee State University the same week. Cindy graciously agreed to be the sole breadwinner while I concentrated on school and took care of our daughter.
My first semester at ETSU scared me off the journalism path for two semesters. A class that illustrated the tremendous losses in the newspaper industry (which I was hoping to join) made me switch my major to nursing. At that time, I was more worried about getting a job when college was over than getting a pretty degree.
But something inside me kept telling me to pursue journalism. I attribute that inner voice to God pushing me down the path I was supposed to go. I talked with my wife about this feeling, and she stood behind me and told me to pursue my heart. So I did.
I will never forget the first article I wrote for a journalism class and my professor's comments. He made a bracket from the first through the fifth paragraphs on the side and said, "That is a great lead." (For those who do not know, a lead is the beginning of the story.) I swelled with pride.
I ended up winning a scholarship and the Chanticleer Award for Excellence in Writing before I left college. I set a trend by minoring in digital media (which I did not know until I went back and found the professors steering undecided students down the digital media path). I discovered my love for day-to-day journalism after doing internships at the Johnson City Press and the Jonesborough Herald and Tribune.
With three months left before I graduated, I secured a job with the Kingsport Times-News. The four-year anniversary of my hiring is coming up next month.
During my time here, I have reported on the struggles of Pennington Gap; the opioid crisis and the work being done to fix it; the wild, wild west of the Suboxone industry in the region; the struggle to feed hungry people; domestic violence; kidnappings and murder. I have met many interesting people who have impacted my life in big and small ways.
I met an autistic boy who loved cupcakes and needed a service dog. I met a woman who staged a wedding so her terminally ill father could walk her down the aisle. I was there when a woman from Oklahoma met the man who received her son's heart, and I'll never forget the expression when she felt his heartbeat. I met a disabled child whose mother fought for the legalization of cannabis oil so she could get off prescription medication.
Along the way, I have talked to tons of politicians (some who called my stories "silly") and community leaders from all walks of life. I have been to a myriad of events and sat through more government meetings than I ever thought possible, all in an effort to inform the public of what is happening in their city, in their region and in their state.
Journalism is the best job on Earth. I have been reluctant to call myself a journalist, sometimes feeling unworthy of the title held by so many before me. But I slowly have embraced the title and now wear it with pride.
I love everything about journalism and will defend it until my dying breath. Oh, and happy birthday to me.