Here’s the thing about being a newspaper reporter: you’re always on the outside looking in.
On a daily basis you cover the lives of other people, be they positive or negative happenings, but at the end of the day you only get to report the news — you rarely get a chance to make it yourself.
Also, as a journalist, you oftentimes end up living vicariously through others, spending time with, and then reporting on, the people who are making the biggest differences in their communities.
I want to be one of those people I write about.
Don’t get me wrong, I still strongly believe that independent journalism, and newspapers’ abilities to make people think, formulate opinions, laugh and cry, are of great significance to communities, but, after nearly seven years as a reporter, I’m heading back to school to pursue a master’s in teaching.
And it’s not just because I want summers off (although I do plan to tan well).
The idea first struck me about four years ago, when I was assigned to the education beat at The Seattle Times.
At the time, the thought of covering education seemed about as fun as a trigonometry exam.
After all, I’d pretty much just finished school myself and was moving over from the sports department — the wonderful world of front-row seats to sporting events, catered buffets in the press box and, since most games are usually played at night, the chance to sleep in until noon, go into the office at 4 p.m., and then, after filing my story, hit the town until the wee hours of the morning (wait a second, maybe I want to be a sports reporter again).
After spending a few months in classrooms, however, seeing teachers find innovative and interesting ways to educate students and help them realize that school truly is important, I was moved by the possibilities the profession presented.
Suddenly, the names of league MVPs, 100-yard rushers and 3-point threats were quickly fading from my memory.
More memorable to me were the names of educators like Cheryl Nixon, who helped her class of special-needs students start their own recycling company; Brenda Jackson, an African American who grew up in the South in the 1950s, who now incorporates messages of equality, justice and nonviolence in classroom lessons; Evelyn Fairchild, who transformed the woods near her urban school into an environmental learning center; and Robert Radford, who started an aviation program at his elementary school, where, upon completion, students get to fly a Cessna.
I was inspired. And I, too, wanted to inspire.
For several years, now, that feeling has not gone away. I’ve been hearing the call of the classroom but have not answered.
I can’t ignore it any longer.
In assessing my career as a journalist, which included stints at The Ferndale Record-Journal, Bellingham Herald, Kitsap Sun, Seattle Times and Bellingham Business Journal, I can say I have accomplished much of what I hoped to do.
I won some awards, was in the locker rooms of pro teams following important games, on the frontlines during many breaking news stories, had frontpage articles at a big daily and, most importantly, told some stories that simply made readers smile and, for a moment, helped them remember that it really is a pretty great world we live in.
Ultimately, though, more often than not, stories that appear in newspapers fade quickly from people’s memories.
If I’m successful as a teacher, what I do will be remembered for lifetimes.
After living in the area again for the last 14 months, after being away since 2000, I’ve noticed many changes since the last time I lived here. Here are some of my personal halos and pitchforks, regarding some of the differences I’ve noticed.
Halo: The Wing Dome. Bellingham’s best new business. Hot wings plus cold brew does equal big fun!
Pitchfork: Growth. I remember when I could get anywhere in town in five minutes. Now, it takes closer to 10.
Pitchfork: Radio commercials. Seriously, I might lose my mind if I hear another spot with those bozos going on about NorthwestWashingtonHelpWanted.com … and nothing makes me turn the radio station faster than “I’m Doug Dupwee from SelectQuote and I’m here with Sheryl Payne.”
If you’re going to air the same five commercials all day long, why don’t you bring back Captain Codfish, you know, Boss Tweed’s Codfather of Sole?
Finally, as I’ve come to be a big fan of The BBJ’s “The Numbers,” I thought I’d put together my own list this month, highlighting some of the random things I’ve done around town during the last year.
22: Most wings eaten in one sitting at the Wing Dome.
11: Most pieces of pizza eaten in one sitting at an Izzy’s lunch buffet.
109: Episodes of the Gilmore Girls I proudly watched on Netflix.
Countless: The number of great people I’ve met while on the job.
Stay classy, Bellingham. And maybe in about a year or so, with my teacher’s salary, I can move back and have just enough money to afford a fixer-upper in Glacier.
J.J. Jensen was a reporter at The Bellingham Business Journal. He is now off to shape young minds and get his teaching certificate. He’ll do a great job!