The story of how a film student turned news reporter: A tale of two interests

Once upon a time, in a world gone mad with fake news, there was one man who decided to change his entire life plans for what seems like no good reason.

This isn’t going to be a full biography or even a memoir. It’s more or less just a recounting of the events that lead me to go from studying film in college to working in the news media business. It wasn’t really a long journey but there were some detours along the way.

It all started when I was 12 years old. My parents bought me an old fashioned typewriter and I set out to write my novels, screenplays, and short stories my imagination had been dreaming up. If it sounds cliche I apologize, but it’s very true. Except the year was 1994 and we couldn’t afford a computer. That is a story for another day. It would be 2 more years before I would up able to upgrade that typewriter into an electronic one with a floppy drive built in. It would be another 4 years after that before I would get my first desktop PC and 2 more years before we would get a printer hooked up to that PC.

In all that time I never stopped writing. I always said my dream was to be a writer. I didn’t care what I did I just wanted to write stories for a living. The thing is, I had no direction, no motivation and very little self esteem. In high school my interests changed. At some point I decided I needed to start a band because I thought that would impress this girl. That dream would morph into a very failed pursuit of a career as a Hip-Hop/Techno DJ. I would go back and forth mixing and scratching my way into releasing several independent, underground records. I even went so far as to scrap together enough money to start up a record studio. Okay it was in the closet of my sisters bedroom in an apartment we shared, but I felt like it counted, it had to. I never stopped writing though. I hadn’t considered myself a write at this point, a song writer to some extent but I never really counted that as “real writing” in my mind.

During this same time I also began pursuing a side career in video production. At first I picked up cameras, editing equipment and microphones in an effort to produce music videos to accompany my music career. The truth is, my interest in making music videos waned and then I shifted to making short films. I also dabbled in internet videos, migrating to YouTube once that became the big thing. Always a rebel, not a follower, I intentionally avoided YouTube only using it to host videos but sharing them on my own website and promoting them through Google Ads and Myspace because that was what I thought I was supposed to do.

Around late 2008 I was invested in starting up a new venture. I was trying to make a series of web videos that would mimic the style of content that was airing on G4 as the network was dying and I wanted to keep that type of content alive. I doubled down on video production, eventually walking away from the music for the next few years. It would take a major life change before I realized I needed to get serious and do something different with my life. I decided while I was living in a run down house in the middle of nowhere Nebraska with no job, no vehicle of my own and no plans for the future, I needed to do something real with my life. It was then I decided to try again going back to school. I had applied for loans, grants and scholarships before but since I was intent on going to film school I was always limited in my options. I tended to apply for schools that wanted more money than I qualified for. Then I decided to just take what I could get. I settled for enrolling in a Broadcasting program at UNK, that is the University of Nebraska at Kearney, in Kearney Nebraska.

My plan was to major in Broadcasting (taking video production, editing, creative writing, and other courses) while minoring in Theater. This way I was getting the technical skills I would need to make films while also getting a foundation in the theater arts. I knew I would need to work with actors and set designers in order to get any film project I dreamed up off the ground. Then something catastrophic happened. I won’t go into the details but due to hysteria following recent campus shootings, stabbings, etc., I found myself in being asked to leave my university over a hunting knifeĀ  friend gave me as a gift. Being the defensive type instead of just going along with what they were asking of me I pushed back, eventually getting to the point they revoked my scholarships and asked me to withdraw entirely from the university.

With no where to go I quickly enrolled in another school in the area. They didn’t have either a broadcasting program or a theater program, so I had to transfer my credits into the closest program they offered, Communications Studies with an Emphasis in Mass Media. It was close enough I could settle for that.

I didn’t enjoy the fact I was no longer enrolled in film courses or studying the subject I intended, but I was just relieved to still be in school working towards something. Through all of my video editing I eventually landed a summer job as a videographer for a wedding photography company. During the course of the summer the videographer who I was working with told me he was a production assistant at the local TV station. His dream was also to become a filmmaker and he had a blog reviewing films on the side. I saw this as my chance to step into the world I had been dreaming of. With his recommendation I applied for a job at the TV station, and landed a spot as a Video Editor. At last I was doing exactly the job I had gone to college to get. It wasn’t my actual dream job, it was just an entry level but I was just happy with that.

Barely 2 weeks into working at the TV station there was an immediate hole in the production team. A morning camera operator quite suddenly and unexpectedly. They asked me, since I had worked as a videographer, to step into the role of camera operator for a couple of days a week. This was in addition to the three days a week I was video editing on the evening shift so it gave me full time hours and I got to work in the studio not the newsroom. I was excited just to be in the studio. I was happy to do the grunt work, micing up the talent, situating guests, running cords, and pointing cameras where they instructed me. They were so impressed with how quickly I adapted they offered me a full time promotion to Assistant Producer, complete with a raise in pay and benefits. I was so happy I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be living my dream.

I never stopped wanting to write. I kept working on my blog on the side hoping eventually I could work my way into reporter or newscaster because I wanted to get out of production and into the exciting world of news. My first news report came when I answered the phone and learned a local family had been killed in a major wreck. I scrambled to take down the info, ran to my desk wrote up a short little news brief, turned it into a reader (that’s what we call it when the newscaster just reads the info no graphic or video) and sent it over to the booth. It was my first chance ever writing a breaking news story, an the thrill was unbelievable. I would slowly get to help out writing stories as I worked in the newsroom. I wasn’t a full reporter, I was mostly in charge of re-wording AP stories we pulled off the wire but it was still better than nothing.

After nine months doing this I realized I needed a change of scenery. It was a small market TV station in the middle of Nebraska. Most of our stories centered on community happenings, local sports and a lot of corn and livestock stories. I even found myself producing a weekend, pre-taped agriculture show. I needed to spread my wings and get out of Nebraska. I made a life-changing decision to move to Texas.

Once I arrived it was time to find a job. I tried the local TV news stations first. The ABC affiliate hired me right away. I had previously been working at an ABC station so it was an easy fit. But something was wrong this time. They didn’t have an opening in production or the newsroom. I didn’t have enough experience as a writer or reporter to get an on-air job so they stuck me in Master Control. For those that don’t know MC is the room where all the switches are. It’s the person in the dusty closet making sure the commercials run. It’s your job to watch all the shows, log the commercials that air, the time they air, and cross them off if they get dropped. For the most part, it was a boring job sitting watching TV all day while also making sure you were keeping the programming going back and forth between local and network. It was a lot harder than it sounded but it was still easy. The problem is it wasn’t anything at all what I wanted to be doing. There was no writing, no video editing and no camera work. It was just sitting in a closet pushing a button when they light flashed. My first day taking the helm the guy training me took a lunch break at a time he thought was the easiest. Once you get into Prime Time it’s basically all automated. At that point you just put a check next to the name of the commercial when it airs. In other words you just sort of sit there babysitting but not doing anything productive. The problem was the transition hadn’t occurred. There was still one more local commercial break, the lead into Prime Time. I missed my cue and the station went into Wheel Of Fortune, blank. It was totally black for 2 whole minutes. It was actually 3 minutes, 2 minutes of commercials and 1 minute into the show. That meant the station lost thousands of dollars due to a mistake I made. Needless to say that was the end of that job.

With no prospects and the other TV station not returning my calls I decided to try something different. I got in touch with the career counselor at my University, I was still enrolled as I was finishing up taking online courses. She helped me re-write my resume with an emphasis on my writing and creative talents. Then I sent my resume out to radio stations, newspapers and local print shops. I had an interview with a radio station for an internship. I was excited for the offer, but it was an unpaid internship that required college credit. I began the process of writing up a lesson plan, finding a sponsor at the university I was attending and then I realized I still had a car payment due, and other bills piling up. I took a part-time job delivering pizzas for Dominoes. I don’t know what had changed from the time I did it before or if Texas was just different but they were taking my tips out of my paycheck and taxing me for them. I was driving 18 miles to work and wasting all my gas to get a very minimal paycheck. Between that and the unpaid internship I was sinking into debt, fast.

In order to get by for the summer I pawned all my video games. My PS2, PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, all my games, DVD’s and Blu Ray discs. I still had to pay that ticket back so I was scrambling. Finally literally on my birthday I got a phone call from the local newspaper. Literally the local newspaper in the very town I was living had an immediate opening for a staff writer. It was exactly my perfect dream job and it came to me, on my birthday. I felt like that was God’s way of saying here you go, you worked hard, persevered an stayed faithful now have at it.

I have been at that weekly newspaper for 2 years. I can honestly say it truly is my dream job. I always wanted a job where I got to write stories for a living and that is what I am doing now. I still found I have time to write for my own blog on the side and even keep working on those novels, screenplays and short stories whenever I find the time, or motivation. You never know where you are going to end up but I read these kinds of stories all the time when I was working at a gas station for minimum wage buying scratch tickets on the off chance I might win enough money to afford a pizza that week. Now I have my own apartment, a decent car, am paying down my student loans and truly am living the American dream. It’s not the dream I set out to pursue but if you have a skill, talent, or vision don’t give up just hang in there and see where life takes you. No matter what happens, take every opportunity you can get because you really never know where this life with lead you

That’s how I went from studying film and dreaming of becoming a Hollywood producer to writing for a weekly newspaper. When I look at the careers of some of the most famous authors and artists of all time, many of them worked at newspapers during the day and wrote their other works on the side. It’s sure a whole lot better than selling gasoline to a bunch of angry people who just want to get back to whatever it is they are doing.