Has it been a year already?
I started working for Texas Forest Country Living in October of 2015 as an intern working on an associate’s degree in journalism at Angelina College. I became a paid employee in December of 2015, and I have learned so much since then.
Working at TFCL has given me invaluable experience in the journalistic field, allowed me to meet incredible and interesting people, and taught me more about the depth of the human experience.
My first big project was a story and picture assignment on the lighting of Rudolph the Red Nose Pumping Engine by Lufkin Industries in December 2015. It was an important story to the public because it was unsure at the time if Rudolph would continue to be lit every year after General Electric bought Lufkin Industries. I remember stepping out of my car about a half a mile across the large Lufkin Mall parking lot into a cold, windy afternoon and seeing other families walking excitedly together towards the festive reindeer.
Despite the cold and slowly descending sun, people of all ages were able to find happiness and laughter as they took part in the festive activities. They ate cookies, took pictures in a sleigh, played games, and more while waiting for the main event, the lighting of Rudolph. It was moving to be able to capture moments of emotion among the celebrating that Rudolph would continue to light Christmas for East Texans another year.
Two big projects I did at the beginning of my time at TFCL were a compilation of community events happening on St. Patrick’s Day and a feature story on the recurring Poetry Grand Slam held at Standpipe Coffee House a few months out of each year. These projects gave me insight into how important networking with the community is to learning what they need to know and how best to tell them.
I met small business owners and published authors, experienced and new to their fields. I learned there is more to a story than what is on the surface. I learned that people affect one another in immeasurable ways, often without realizing it. I realized East Texas has more depth to offer than I knew and that I could help expose that depth.
When Creative Producer Megan Whitworth came on our team in June 2016, we started several new initiatives to make TFCL better. One of those initiatives included a feature story a week on the people of East Texas. My first feature story for that initiative highlighted Jessica Knight’s winning battle against cancer and her journey to help others both prevent and overcome cancer, as well. It was an emotional moment for all at that table in Standpipe Coffee House when she spoke about her best and worst moments, her love for her son, and her hope for being a part of creating a better, healthier life for individuals who find themselves with breast cancer.
Knight’s story was only the beginning of my journey to understand how to interpret people’s stories and fluidly tell them in a truthful, artful, and entertaining way. Those factors must all be balanced or the story is not what it needs to be. If the facts are not all correct or if they are not told in a way that people can understand or be moved by, the story is not where it should be. I have had my fair share of failure and success attempting to tell people’s stories correctly, and the failures and successes have been essential to my growth as a writer and a person.
Two more feature stories helped me realize how much a journalist can help or hurt the community.
The first was a three part story about bullying. The first part was from the educator’s perspective, the second from the church’s perspective, and the third from the staff at TFCL’s perspective. While doing research, I found stories that skirted the topic or only covered one side of it. The majority of the stories advocated the child’s plight but avoided how to truly change things. I wanted my stories to both show how dangerous bullying is and how it can be prevented, and I wanted it to be local and relatable.
The second was the story of a family struggling to help their son as he fights a cyst on the center of his brain. The child’s name is Kohner Thompson, and his mother, Ashley, told me their story. It was one of the hardest stories for me to write because there is no happy ending yet. The family is dealing with pain and financial burdens along with their son’s sickness. Yet, they are fighting with love and faith and community to support them.
Kohner’s story taught me that a story doesn’t need to be resolved before it is told. Life is not about happy endings or beginnings. Life is about everything that happens in between the beginning and end. It is about the little moments and choices just as much as it is about the bigger, revolutionary decisions. My decision to write Kohner’s story may have inspired someone to give to that family, or it may have simply given he and his family hope during a dark time. I am satisfied with either result.
I have learned my job as a journalist is more than meets the eye. I have a responsibility to readers to provide information both needed and wanted, with information that would improve lives. From how-to’s to public safety announcements, from in-depth feature stories to the latest community event, the goal remains to produce true content that enriches people’s lives, and I am excited to spend another year doing the same thing.