This month marks my 10th anniversary of being a full-time, professional journalist.
I’ve been a reporter since my days at Howard High School’s student newspaper, The Lion’s Tale. But I’ve only truly been a pro since I graduated from the University of Maryland in 2000 and Bob Mosier hired me to be a cub reporter for the Maryland Gazette. (Thanks, Bob!)
At the time, I never would have expected to still be with the same company 10 years later. (I eventually moved up to The Capital, our company’s flagship publication and sort of a big sister to the Maryland Gazette.) I surely thought I would have landed at one of the region’s metro papers by now.
But the news business has changed, and opportunities to move up the newspaper ladder are few and far between. In some respects, I’m lucky to still have a job I love, given all the awful layoffs in this industry.
Ten years ago, I also never imagined that I’d end up learning photo and video skills. I didn’t know what a big deal the Internet would be. I didn’t immediately grasp the importance of online journalism, especially for breaking news.
Over the years, I’ve had ups and downs, and I’m still fortunate to do something I love to do every single day.
Here are some things I’ll never forget — good and bad and ugly — from the first 10 years of what I hope will be a long journalism career.
Millersville house explosion
On a Tuesday night (which was deadline night for the twice-weekly Maryland Gazette), a house was leveled due to a propane explosion. The byline on the story was the editor and the photographer, as they were the only ones still around when it happened.
The next day, I was assigned to use the criss-cross directory (basically, a reverse phone book) to call neighbors on the street for a follow-up story.
This was the first time I had that awful, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is so difficult to interview people in tragic situations. I’ve gotten to know that feeling well over the years.
But I got a lady on the phone who talked and talked and talked about her neighbors and at the end she actually thanked me for calling, she felt such relief at sharing her thoughts with others.
Dean Richard Tully
I will never understand this guy.
He was a serial rapist in Glen Burnie who was convicted of (among other things) raping an elderly woman and leaving her duct-taped to a coffee table in her home. Absolutely terrifying.
If I remember correctly, he was caught when residents of a condo complex thwarted another attempted rape.
He was sentenced to two life terms plus 25 years. He’s serving his time in a maximum-security state prison in Cumberland.
Sept. 11, 2001
I was working, of course, on 9/11 during the terrorist attacks.
I remember many staffers gathered in the Maryland Gazette editor’s office to listen to the radio. I thought it was no big deal, one of those small planes with a kooky pilot crashing into the building.
Quickly, I learned I was wrong — very wrong! — and I was dispatched to the airport along with photographer Paul W. Gillespie.
Feeding information back to the newsroom was challenging because the cell phone system was so overloaded.
This also happened on a Tuesday, deadline day, and we put out a really fantastic paper on Wednesday morning.
When I was at the Maryland Gazette, my coverage area included Jessup, which is home to several state prisons, as well as a county jail.
I teamed with photographer Paul W. Gillespie (again!) for a series on what’s behind the walls of those prisons.
1. Women prisoners are much scarier than male prisoners. Some of those women gave me looks like, “What the he%# is that b^T$% doing here?” The men were mainly losers who hooted at me.
2. The saddest place in the world was the basement medical unit of the Maryland House of Correction (now closed), where older prisoners were receiving dialysis. I remember one of the chairs had duct tape holding the arm in place. I know, I know, those people ended up there because of their own doing, but it struck me as a place I would never, ever want to be.
One time, I rushed out to the scene of a house fire.
By the time I got there, the fire was out. But, boy, was there a good story there.
It turns out that some construction workers who were, fittingly, remodeling a fire-damaged house down the street had rushed down to the scene of the fire.
A young mother and her baby were trapped on the second floor, and the fire was on the first floor.
The construction workers convinced the mom to drop the baby down to them. They caught the baby!
And then the construction workers got the mom to jump down to safety.
Mom and baby were taken to the hospital but were OK. The construction workers were honored in a big ceremony in Annapolis.
But sadly, the story takes an awful turn.
About a year or so later, the baby who was given this wonderful second chance at life wound up dead. Mom’s boyfriend was accused of shaking the baby to death.
I was relieved that I didn’t end up covering the baby’s tragic death. I’m not sure how well I would haven handled it. To this day, it’s the saddest story I’ve ever encountered on the job.
I’ll never forget how the hospital spokeswoman pitched me the story of a podiatrist who used maggots (!) to treat patients with stubborn wounds.
She said, “I’m not sure if this is too gross or just gross enough.”
It turned out to be just gross enough for my taste.
I met a lovely couple at the podiatrist’s office. He had a wound that wouldn’t heal, and the maggots were used basically in place of a procedure called a “debridement” that cleans out the wound. You see, the maggots actually eat away at the dead tissue.
That story was a crazy, interesting medical story, one of the first ones I did in my short stint as a health reporter for The Capital. It was an award-winner, too, which was an added bonus.
Newsrooms can be wickedly fun and wild places to work.
There’s the rush of pulling together a breaking news story on deadline, the joy and realizing you scooped the competition, the cursing after finishing a bad interview, the passionate disagreements over word choice or grammar mistakes and some sick and twisted humor.
Some people may think reporters, photographers and editors aren’t so bright, especially when we make mistakes. But I have worked with brilliant, talented and funny people in all the newsrooms I’ve worked in — and that goes all the way back to my days at The Lion’s Tale and at The Diamondback in college.
The newspaper journalists I’ve known easily could have succeeded in any number of other career paths. They’re smart enough to run businesses, practice law, teach at the college level and more. But they chose to follow their passion into journalism, even with the not-so-hot pay. And we’re all better for it.
Working with smart, passionate people is inspiring and fun. And it’s one of the best parts of my job.
Adventures on the bay
On a lighter note, I’ve had a whole bunch of fun on my environmental stories.
I’ve done a ton of cool stuff over the years, including: tonging for oysters, tagging along with crabbers, catching trophy rockfish, planting underwater grasses and marsh grasses, trapping terrapins for research, looking for terrapin hatchlings on the beach, seeing fish go over the Conowingo Dam’s fish ladder, patrolling with the Natural Resources Police, hiking amazing woods, riding along on a skipjack for a day.
I’ve also done stuff like: going deep into a container ship, canoeing and kayaking in several different rivers, visiting oyster-shucking and crab-picking plants, spending a weekend in the mountains for the “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman” program, touring a coal-fired power plant, hanging out at local farms, spending plenty of time at the county landfill and seeing a huge recycling center in action.
I’ve had the opportunity to go: shooting sporting clays, flying over the bay in a small plane, sailing along with a replica of Capt. John Smith’s “shallop,” riding along with an icebreaker and — I can’t leave this out — visiting four different sewage plants in three different states.
These are the kinds of things that get me excited about work.
The one thing I haven’t done yet is to go up on the Bay Bridge. I’m still trying to work out a way to make that happen. If anyone’s got any good ideas or excuses to get me up on the bridge, I’m all ears!