September 2017 is a month of milestones for me.
First there is this, my 100th column in the Hamilton Post. Then, later in the month, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be going through the small matter of getting married.
The way everything has converged—my 10th anniversary at the Post, 100 columns over the last 8-and-a-half years, and this big change to my marital status—has struck me. It may be a coincidence, but it’s also a very clear signal that I’m at one of those points in my life that lends itself to reflection.
My engagement lasted a bit longer than two years, and during that time, my fiancee and I collected a lot of unsolicited advice about married life. There was the usual: “Happy wife, happy life.” The cynical: “Your wedding day will be the best day of your life. Each day after that will be perpetually worse.” And the sarcastic: “Don’t do it. They call marriage an institution for a reason.”
It’s funny because these jaded bits of wisdom remind me a lot of the warnings I received before I went into journalism. But if marriage is anything like my foray into journalism, I think we’ll be just fine.
That’s not to say it will be easy. I look back on my friends from Syracuse University, the S.I. Newhouse School and The Daily Orange, and very few are in the newspaper game these days. (The ones who are all seem to have Pulitzers or plum gigs like covering the Philadelphia Eagles). But most opted for a different career path. Some are in the military, others are teachers or lawyers or podcast hosts. There’s really no one like me, whose eyes at graduation were back instead of up.
More than one person wondered why I decided to take my Newhouse degree, and come home to take a crack at building up a young, growing monthly newspaper. In those days, papers like the Hamilton Post were seen as “disruptors,” shaking up the media landscape. They didn’t hold the prestige of the established dailies, nor the excitement of the digital startups to come. Not that we knew those startups were coming—when I graduated in 2007, the curriculum at Syracuse hadn’t yet adapted to digital world that had started to form around us. Smartphones didn’t exist. Neither did Instagram or Snapchat. Facebook was only open to college students, and then, only as a repository for photos you’d regret later.
But my response then for those people who questioned my decision holds true today: I believe in the importance of hyperlocal journalism, and I believe the best person to make a difference is one who has spent a lifetime building sources in town, someone who’s affected by the issues personally as much as professionally.
Sure enough, in my decade here, I’ve met thousands of people who have affected me both personally and professionally. I’d hate to start a list because there are so many who have sent words of encouragement or spent hours explaining a concept that confused me or bore with me as I asked them to relive the details of a personal tragedy. Please know, all of you, I appreciate it.
I had no idea I’d cover a trial, work as a ‘celebrity’ scooper and bartender, or spend a day in a car with the mayor and a dog.
But there is one person I met on the job who has altered my life more than the others. Eight years ago, our web manager brought in a Rutgers University senior who was looking for some work experience before she graduated. She impressed enough that the company brought her on full-time. A few months later, she moved from web to editorial, and into a desk next to mine. We talked every day, until a job opened up in our production department in 2011. She took the gig, moved her seat and didn’t speak to me for months.
Somehow, in winter 2012, that silence melted into talking casually about football. Then in spring, into tossing around the idea of hanging out in a place other than work. Then that summer, into dating—although not mentioning it because we didn’t know how our managers and the publishers would react to an interoffice relationship. (Turns out they knew and were even more thrilled than we were about it.) And now she will be my wife.
This road has been unexpected for her, too. She was just an intern when I started this column, and now she’s done just about all a person can do at a community newspaper. In 2012, when we started dating, she was relatively new to design, and it fills me with pride to see how much she has grown as an artist. She’s even won a number of awards for her work. And, thanks to her, I’ve won some awards, too.
It’s hard to overstate the hand she’s had in my work—proofreading, making suggestions for improved organization, offering emotional support when I pull the tortured writer act. That’s not to mention the times she has lent herself as a subject for my columns. It was her Breaking Bad shirt the Dutch guy took in Yosemite. It was her being bombarded by vendors at the bridal show. She is the one who has to put up with the cheap, wobbly, full-of-nail-holes furniture. I just step back, laugh and use her suffering for professional gain.
All of this is my way of saying that when I arrived at the Hamilton Post in 2007 full of principle and optimism, I had no idea how much this place and this job would affect my life.
I had no idea I’d cover a trial, become a semi-expert on drug addiction, work as a “celebrity” ice cream scooper and bartender, spend an afternoon in a car with an elected official and a dog. (By the way, how’s Ozzy doing, Mayor Yaede?) I had no idea I’d wind up as editor of this paper, and have 100 opportunities to fill it with what I try to pass off as wit. And I certainly never expected, in the ink-stained trenches of local journalism, to find someone who would find remotely attractive the potential of being column fodder for a lifetime.
How many decisions and events—all happening in conjunction over the course of a decade—had to happen for us to wind up here, now? It boggles my mind to look back in this way, and to consider how one small action set into play this result. What do the actions of September 2017 mean for September 2027?
Obviously, I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know what the landscape ahead holds for us, in journalism or marriage.
But wherever the journey brings us, may there be many more columns about it.