When I first started to write in elementary school, I couldn't decide what I liked writing most. I loved to sit down and reflect about my life, journal-style, but there are also a few fiction attempts floating around that I'm sure are highly embarrassing and never-to-be-shared. (Unless, of course, I do someday become a successful novelist and excerpts are printed in the front of my book. Don't hold your breath.) As I got older, I settled into the long-form interview as my favorite style, because it gave me the chance to meet and learn about other people, but also because I didn't think my life was exciting enough that people would want to read about it.
It was this initial interest that drove me to pursue journalism—the desire to to find a new adventure every single day, coupled with the idea that I could tell stories anywhere in the world. This passion brought me to a small town in Idaho during the summer before my sophomore year, where my lovely uncle happened to be a publisher for a few local papers. He'd let me shadow the paper's operations, of course, but throughout it all, he said he was hoping that it wasn't the career for me. After all, print journalism was dying, and what kind of responsible uncle lets his niece pursue a career where she's destined for low pay and a shortage of jobs? Despite his hesitation, I flew out to the West Coast with my notebook in hand and starry-eyed visions of my first foray into the world of real journalism.
The team at the time consisted of just one full-time reporter and a photographer who covered all the news for the surrounding area, if I remember correctly. I don't think they knew exactly what to do with the precocious teen who showed up and wanted to see it all, do it all, but mostly be a part of it all. Luckily for me, they happened to be fantastic humans who immediately let me tag along on a trip out to take pictures and interview people on the scene of a local fire that had broken out that morning. As we pulled up to the scene, the reporter pretty much immediately started speaking with the firefighter on the scene, breaking down exactly what had happened and snapping a few photos in between phrases. I was hooked. It took about five minutes of being intimidated until I decided that I too, wanted to be a small town reporter with the entire town's news at my responsibility.
I don't remember how it happened, but somehow I was assigned a few stories—surely pitches that the team hadn't had time to handle but were wiling to let a completely inexperienced high schooler take a shot at. With the guidance and editing support of the lead reporter, I tackled my first ever stories, interviews and photos included Within days, I had written about the opening of a local pet store, the 100th year celebration of a local antique shop, and the story of a local engineer stationed abroad with the Navy. (Notice: *local* news played a pretty big role in this whole experience). I look back now and am astounded by a few things—first of all, knowing that the 'seasoned reporter' who took me under his wing was probably around the same age I am now, despite seeming incredibly experienced and all-knowing to me at the time. Second, the ease at which this team let me into their ranks and allowed me to become a truly published reporter at my age was absolutely incredible. What kind of high-schooler gets that experience? Turns out I wasn't a bad writer, and the team enjoyed someone picking up the extra stories they didn't have time to handle. The reporter even put a blurb on the front page of the paper about me (I didn't save that paper, for reasons unbeknownst to me now, but it said something like 'this high schooler is joining us special this summer and is a better writer than many college grads.' It's not bragging because it literally meant the world to my younger self, even though now I recognize it as an adorable but completely exaggerated way to welcome me into the world of small town journalism.) I'll never forget the feeling of my name printed on that paper—Emily Drewry, Special to the Shoshone News-Press. It completely changed my life.
To my uncle's dismay, I ended my trip even more passionate about pursuing journalism than I began. I returned home even more adamant that I not only needed to study journalism in college, but that I needed to do it at the Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, IL. I'd had my sets on Northwestern since about 8th grade, but this solidified the dream. Northwestern or bust, I remember telling my parents (who, at the time, were incredibly patient with my obsession but I know were panicking on the inside.)
Fast forward a few years and I made it to journalism school—where every single day I got to go out and interview people, writing about stories that where just a bystander and responsible for bringing it to life for the rest of the world. Medill taught me everything I had hoped it would, and I never got over the pride I felt when telling people that I attended one of the best journalism schools in the country. I still feel proud, two years out of school, and I miss the days spent working on headlines and editing ledes under the supervision of the school's esteemed staff.
These days, I'm not a reporter or even a full-time writer, though I do get to work in a newsroom every single day. I sometimes wonder if shifting away from the dream of writing for a small time paper was a mistake, despite the sad-but-true knowledge that print journalism, is in fact, weaker than ever before (not journalism as a whole, though—thankfully it will survive and thrive online, though I never could have imagined that back in the day).
Now I'm looking for my next big writing project—am I interesting enough to write about myself all the time? (Don't answer that.) Or do I need to find a new topic to write about? Reflecting about where it all began reminds me that the key to my love for journalism began with a love for sharing stories and meeting people, a passion that never went away. It's not a unique dream, to be sure, as I am well aware of the blogs, sites, podcasts, and more crowding the inter webs. My job is to find a spot where I fit in, adding a worthy voice to the noise instead of complicating it. Luckily I have the training of a small town reporter—savvy enough to cover a major fire when need be, but willing to go anywhere and write anything that's needed. What a fitting metaphor for the life of a young writer in NYC.