Don’t fret, young journalists

Young journalists,

Let me tell you a story.I bumped into a woman today who recently left a journalism job without much hope for the future of the industry.

“Get out,” she growled. “Get out while you can.”

She then left without as much as a handshake. She was late to her new job.

Get out? Me? Get out of what? Where? When? Why? That’s all I could think.

Perhaps the response to her warning reveals a trapped journalist that cannot escape the five critical questions, stuck in forever in jurno-purgatory. Or, perhaps the 5-question response shows the only way my brain can process information, again a scary realization.

There are many fears (beyond the five-question “is this the way I should be thinking?” approach to life) surrounding young journalists right now but those fears shouldn’t scare people away from the industry. At the Missouri Press Association Convention this year, I was asked to sit on a “young journalist” panel and talk about some of these concerns. Call me an eternal optimist but I think we’re all fine.

My big three points:

1. Journalism is here to stay. People will always care about what’s going on in their community, and they want reliable information, not speculation. Journalism will always fill that void.

2. Journalism is changing. I don’t think we’ll be sticking quarters into a box for much longer to get a newspaper. We might see journalism being paid in a variety of ways depending on the news organization. Ads, paywalls, donations, Google surveys, etc. might all add up to pay for a “paper.”

3. Journalism isn’t about the money. At least this is true for me. I want to obviously be able to support myself, but I’m not looking to drive around a Ferrari. If you’re going to stick with this industry, I think you need to be okay with living on not too much.

if you love this job, you will be able to earn a living off it. Journalism will be needed. As we keep wading through this information-filled life, we need people who can sort it all out for us.

And to the people who warn you to “get out” because journalism is dying? Just ask where they heard that news from. I bet they read that somewhere …

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Some pretty awesome ledes

So our journalism professor asked us to find three stories with some pretty awesome ledes. Here are some of my favorite:

1. Seth Wickersham’s “Awakening the Giant” http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/11214487/hall-fame-quarterback-ya-tittle-takes-final-trip-home-espn-magazine. The lede is a great portrait of a beat-up quarterback who doesn’t remember getting beat up. It’s honest and beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

2. Caitlin Flanagan’s “The Dark Power of Fraternities” http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/02/the-dark-power-of-fraternities/357580/ A pun that landed very well (but didn’t take off that well) ended this lede that leaves you wincing in pain. The lede employs great description and sets the scene for the rest of the story.

3. Rick Reilly’s “When your dream dies” http://www.si.com/vault/1994/12/26/132955/when-your-dream-dies-after-a-high-school-referee-blew-a-call-that-helped-cost-him-a-chance-to-work-a-championship-football-game-his-life-no-longer-seemed-worth-living The lede is as descriptive as it is shocking and makes you want to read more.

Appreciating I-70’s billboards and Booches’ burgers

I grabbed the slick wooden edge of Booches bar, tightening my grip until my fingers turned white. Melted cheese on patties and Coca-Cola on ice waltzed into my nostrils. Beer glasses clinked and the grill sizzled as I stared at the bottles of liquor, resting easily on the shelf behind the bar.

Yes, today was one of those days. You know, the days when you a.) realize that you need to live in the moment and b.) try desperately to achieve that sense of now-ness. It was also a day spent regretting all the days I didn’t live in the moment since the last time I decided I should live in the moment.

But I can’t dwell on that regret. I’m Living In The Moment.

Why enjoy life the beauty of the present today? Earlier in the morning, an art professor told our class about a billboard project she’s working on. Driving from Kansas City to St. Louis, she’s taking a photo of every billboard along I-70 and wondering what each billboard means in the context of its environment. Artist Anne Thompson accepts billboards as a part of the American landscape and doesn’t see them as “ugly” or “uninviting.” Thompson believes billboards are just billboards, but still thinks the super-signs can benefit from art.

The billboards had me thinking: what else around me goes completely unnoticed? I mean, I would have never thought of billboards giving meaning to an environment, much less as a potential work of art. Failing to realize the potential beauty in billboards disturbed me to the point that I needed to live in the present immediately. After all, paying attention to everything around me will help me appreciate life’s beauty.

Quickly, living in the moment became difficult. Text messages, phone calls and Snapchats invaded my life. Loud noises and whizzing cars snapped me out of my present-mindedness. Even a simple hello on the street knocked me out of my rhythm.

Living in the moment all the time is hard. But, I realized the technique of focusing on the present was beneficial each time I started to get preoccupied. Nothing melts worries away quite like a slow bite through a cheesy Booches burger.

Musings after a Mizzou victory

Walking down Paquin Street following Mizzou’s Saturday victory, I passed a young woman with a huge bump on the left side of her face, streams of crimson blood mixing with brown makeup.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she said.

“Do you want me to call for help or something?” I said.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she said.

The woman quietly moved past me and walked toward Hitt Street. I didn’t know what to think as she left. Was I supposed to do something? What could I have done? And, how did she get hurt?

I wondered, too, about the other people who ran into her on the sidewalks near East Campus. I wondered if they stopped and asked if they could help her, or if they just moved along and thought about how messed up she looked.

Often, we look at football Saturdays around the country as thousands of screaming fans wearing the identical colors of their team. We forget about portable grills burning hands, tailgate footballs jamming fingers or people tripping on their faces. Tailgating is actually a somewhat dangerous activity, if you think about it. Of course, not as dangerous as playing football. But still.

When I was a kid, Mizzou had an alumni tailgate event in humid gym with no air conditioning before a September game. Most fans were nursing water bottles and hovering near open doors and windows. Truman the Tiger tried to excite some of the fans, running around the gym throwing plastic footballs to kids and posing for photos.

About a half hour later, I saw Truman walk to the side of the gym, fall backyards and lay motionless. Paramedics carried the mascot out on a gurney without his Tiger head. The 6-year-old me was suddenly confronted with the uncomfortable truth that Truman wasn’t real. Now, I wonder whether how he’s doing.

I’m not advocating that we do away with tailgates. I love the practice with all my heart and some of my fondest memories at this school have been created on the black pavement with family and friends. But as we approach next Saturday, I would like to advise us all to make sure our intended receiver knows to put a drink down and catch a football. Remember: Safety first.

A small town, rainy Friday night

A paramedic slept inside an ambulance near Fr. Tolton High School’s football field as rain drummed along the dashboard window.

Her face illuminated in the darkness, another paramedic stared at her iPad, slowly pulling her finger along the slick screen. She was working on her degree in graphic design while lightning flashed across the sky, delaying Friday’s Tolton-Kennedy football contest. Paid by the hour, she didn’t mind waiting for the game to restart.

Her co-worker snoozed right through our cracked-door conversation, rain sneaking onto the front seat.

After wishing the paramedic luck with her studies, I didn’t really know what to do during the lightning-delayed game last Friday, so I continued to talk to people. I moved on to the concession stand where business was “slow.” Right away, they offered me a hot dog or a cold soda. I declined, but the concessions staff then insisted on the nachos with more melted cheese than I’d get anywhere else.

I didn’t want to get into an ethical conversation about accepting free gifts while on the job and politely responded, “No thanks.”

The concessions staff worked on a volunteer basis. Tolton High School (enrollment: around 200) asks parents to help work events. There were a handful of people helping out in the food stand, a few in the parking lot and more on the field. The concessions people joked that their job was “involuntary servitude.”

In the press box, I bumped into one member of the chain gang, who said he helped out with Mizzou games as well. He said his daughter did cheer and he participated in Tolton’s first chain measurement ever at home that night (it went Tolton’s way). He claimed he was an extra in the movie, “The Natural,” and might have also been in “Spiderman” because he was in New York at the time it was being filmed.

Finally, the lightning moved on and the game finished around 11 p.m. My story took longer, and I left the newsroom at 1 a.m.

I wrote the story as best I could, knowing it wasn’t going to get a record-number of reads or win awards. Those things didn’t matter to me. Filing my story, I thought about the paramedics, the concession stand workers and the chain gang crew that all helped out to make Friday special.

And, as I drove along down an empty 7th Street toward Broadway, I felt satisfied I’d done my small part too.

Failing at kickball

I recently played in an adult kickball game at Cosmo Park in Columbia, Mo. It was a Friday night, and our competition was a bunch of middle-aged people who looked like they had trouble walking from their cubicles to the parking lot.

Stepping into the batter’s (err, kicker’s?) box, I swiped my leg a few times in the dirt and puffed out my chest. I had this. It was just kickball, a simple playground game, and the ball moved slow and steady.

First pitch, I steamed toward the green orb, dreaming of drilling that thing over the chain-link fence. I made contact and then immediately grabbed the back of my right leg as it tightened and a dull pain set in.

Hopping on one leg, I barely made it to first. Then, a pregnant woman on my team called from the bench and asked me if I was okay.

These moments make me question what I do on a daily basis: write about sports for the Columbia Missourian. I mean, I’m an awful athlete. I batted below .100 on my fifth grade baseball team.

I’ll be the first to admit that I also know very little about most things involving sports. I don’t rabidly follow professional leagues or incessantly watch Sports Center. I haven’t even renewed my subscription to SI, which might be a mortal sin to some.

But there’s just something about a field and being outside with people playing a game that always has me wondering why. Why do they play? Why do they train? What’s going on in their minds?

I mean, it’s just kickball, right?

I miss the old Memorial Stadium

I’ll admit it: I don’t like new things.

There’s just some sort of appeal to me about older buildings. I love the way they look and the way they smell. It always amazes me to think that someone from decades ago walked through the same place as I did. 

On Saturday, it was hard for me to like the new look of Mizzou’s Memorial Stadium’s east side upgrades. First of all, the new additions forced my family’s tailgate out of it’s old spot next to the Hearnes Center to Lot C near the woods. Our old location had become the new tailgating spot for ticket holders who were part of the stadium expansion.

I missed our old tailgating spot, which was near where many fans entered into Memorial Stadium. Our new spot, out near the woods, did provide shade but lacked the energy of being near a stadium entrance.

Admittedly, Memorial Stadium has never been the nicest looking pantheon for collegiate football. But the new, slick-looking pictures of Mizzou that hang off the drab concrete made me sad. That side of the stadium sort of seems like other newer-looking stadiums, losing Memorial’s old, crusty design that was oddly charming. 

Call me a purist, sure. But it’s just hard to watch the old get replaced with the new, further distancing Mizzou fans from traditional Memorial Stadium experiences. 

As the troughs get replaced with bidets and fans become more used to air conditioning, let’s not forget the road it took for the stadium took to get here. On my future leather recliner in a Memorial skybox, I might fondly remember the hours I spent standing on a wobbly metal bench getting sunburned. Either way, I’ll miss you, Old Memorial.