A Look Back

I entered another show today – Festival this time. This year it has an unusual host location – the old Grand Rapids Press building. As I drove down there after church, I tried to recall the last time I had been in that building. Because you see, back in the day, I worked there as a writer. Oh, this was no ordinary first job out of college bit. No, brace yourself, I worked there when I was a senior in high school.

We had Career Day at some point in the year. I remember because I was asked to introduce the Head Chef from the Grand Plaza for one of the sessions. Meanwhile, I sat in on one featuring a staff member from The Grand Rapids Press. After the session was done, I approached the speaker about working there. You see, at the time, there was a youth section whose target audience was teenagers, like myself. This, of course, was nearly 30 years ago, back before the internet and smart &/or cell phones, when newspapers were one of few sources for news. As part of my application as a writer for this section, I had to submit some writing samples. I was a film watching fanatic back in the day, so I sent in a couple of movie reviews. They either saw some promise in my prose or were desperate for writers because I soon joined the team.

Since it’s been a while, I can’t remember for certain how I managed to work there plus my other part time job, plus attend school and complete my homework. I think I only went there once a week for a couple of hours as I believe the section was a once a month feature. I do, however, remember having at least three articles printed with my name in the byline – though, I think my last name may have been spelled correctly only once or twice. My first article was a movie review that got whittled down to almost nothing and was nearly entirely reworked from my original draft. My second article, which I wrote with the assistance of other teenage writers, was about senior proms and how it differed amongst the various area schools.

It was my last article though, that was to be my crowning achievement and actually brought me some recognition. My story was about high school students who were running their own businesses or had “professional” jobs. Two of the gals that I interviewed were models and a few guys were running their own landscaping service. One of the staff photographers photographed one of the gals in a “photo shoot” setting, along with the guys amidst their gear. The story made the front page of the section along with the photos. Unfortunately for me, the article wasn’t published until after I had graduated, so any acclaim I might have garnered from my classmates was lost. I did run into one of the guys the following fall as we passed each other on the campus of the college we were attending. Apparently, the column had been a boon for their business, so he had remembered it and thanked me for it.

As for my career as a newspaper columnist, it came to an end quite quickly. The youth section was being phased out for one and my graduating had aged me out of the position (plus, all of the cutting and editing had lessened my joy of being journalist). I did walk away with a high grade in my English Composition class as, unbeknownst to me, my teacher had seen my articles and had considered them extra credit, thus boosting my grade all the more. I also ended up with an unexpected surprise in the form of a paycheck some months later. It wasn’t much – under $100, but at the time it was a windfall, especially since I had thought all along that I had been doing it for just the experience.

Times have changed since then. With everyone having access to news in many different ways, printed news, in the form of newspapers, is on its way out. The building which once housed The Grand Rapids Press was recently sold and it may either be revamped or razed. I drove to it today from a different direction than I took decades ago. It was easy to see how the downtown area has changed and grown after all of this time, adapting to the times. Then again, so have I. I use a laptop to write my blogs, publishing them to my website via a wireless connection. All in all, I probably spend less time on each blog entry than I did on each of my articles, plus there’s no one to tear my piece apart and misspell my name. I also ended up preferring the literary style of writing – where the narrative builds to the end versus the style used most frequently in news – telling all the vital news in the opening lines and then going back and filling in the details. While I can’t say for certain how many readers follow my blog, it is free of charge to read.