Hi, it’s me, your old pal Robert. You’ve probably been wondering why you haven’t seen me in the Western Herald lately. Trust me, it’s for a good reason.
Late February of this year, I was hired as the newest full-time staff writer for the Three Rivers Commercial-News, the newspaper based in my hometown of Three Rivers, Mich. If you don’t know where it is, it’s a straight shot south down U.S. 131, and you can’t miss it. I’m one of only three writers on the small staff, which means I’ve been taking on a lot more responsibilities than I had with the Herald.
For one, I’m on a daily deadline, as opposed to the Herald’s weekly deadline. That, and I’m also building the paper itself a couple days a week. It’s fun work for the most part, doing what I’ve wanted to do, but it’s also very challenging (don’t even get me started on corrections, ugh.)
I keep coming back to the statistic that Western Michigan University touts about 91 percent of graduates getting jobs right out of college, and I guess I can count myself among that number. Heck, I got a job before I graduated, which I’m very thankful for. But at what cost?
Admittedly, I was hoping to wait until after I graduated to get a job so I could focus on my last few months here at WMU, but instead of me finding a job, the job found me. And for that, I’d like to thank Glen Dillon, the assistant director of student media here at the Student Media Group, who got me in contact with the managing editor over there. And for a while, I was wondering what the heck I was getting myself into.
Sometimes, though, having a full-time job while still going to school does have its consequences. I’ve been trying to juggle both work and school on a daily basis, and it’s extremely hard to do most days. Sometimes I have only one meeting scheduled for a day and I have to scramble around class to think of another story idea, and sometimes, I have to do what I did a couple Thursdays ago, and drive through four counties just to get from one story in one county, to another story in another county, and then drive through a third county just to get to class on time in Kalamazoo County. As my professors can also attest, I’ve even had to take calls for work during class, and even edit the next day’s paper during class, which can be pretty inconvenient.
Now, you may be reading that last paragraph and thinking to yourself, “Robert, why don’t you tell your editor to give you a lighter workload?” And to that, I say, yeah, I probably should have. But, I guess I’m too much of a tryhard wanting to make a good early impression on my bosses and wanting to do as much as I can while still balancing school and have a life — thank goodness I get weekends pretty much off at my job — to settle with a lighter workload. Yes, I do think that mindset is a bit of a problem, and yes, I need to see a counselor about that mindset. Do I have the time, though? That’s the big question.
Personally, I think that mindset I have of “I have to be perfect all the time” can be mentally draining, and admittedly, I have felt the effects of it, especially these last couple of weeks before I graduate. I’m starting to feel anxious and nervous, and I feel like everything I write will be torn apart over the littlest detail, and I start to lose confidence in my writing. Every time I get an email at my work email, I dread that it’s someone upset that I didn’t get this one single detail right, and I have to correct it. Yeah, corrections are fine, but it makes me feel like I didn’t do enough, that I didn’t listen hard enough, that I didn’t understand something perfectly the first time, and I resolve myself to try and do my job better, which is a good thing, but can also be mentally taxing when I’m thinking about all the stuff I didn’t do correctly day in and day out.
But outside of those consequences and mental health issues, I’m grateful to have a job — with a salary, even! — that I can use right away to help pay off the $18,000 I will have in student loans. The people at my job are awesome, kind, and understanding, and I couldn’t ask for more out of a first job. I get to meet a lot of people, interact with my community, and get to cover some really cool stories. Heck, I’ve already gotten to interview a big-time children’s band that was on the Disney Channel for a few years, and I’ve gotten to interview a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer! You can do really cool things as a journalist, and that makes me feel just a little bit better about the job and profession I’ve chosen.
This is the last article I’m writing for the Western Herald, though, and it’s very bittersweet. This is the place where I pretty much got a jumpstart in my writing skills, where I learned how to be a journalist, and where I met some of the best friends I’ll ever have. There are many people I want to thank for shaping me into the journalist I am today.
First and most of all, I want to thank my original editor-in-chief, Brendan Buffa, who has encouraged me and supported me throughout my time at the Herald, even after he graduated and went to Channel 3. Next, I want to thank Trey Sobolewski and Jackson Viddauri, my original editors in the sports section, for giving me great story ideas, giving me tons of advice, and teaching all of us in the sports section to “not plagratize,” er, “plagiarize.”
I also want to thank the WMU volleyball team for being the first sport I ever did beat reporting for. Yes, they gave me slight heart attacks at times — 2017 Mid-American Conference Tournament, anyone? Two 2-0 comebacks in a row? — but they were low-key one of the better fall sports teams for a couple of years.
Special thanks goes to the 2016 WMU football team for being the best MAC football team I’ve ever laid eyes on. Even though you didn’t win the Cotton Bowl — and frankly, they should have — it was cool to watch College GameDay live at WMU, get a front row seat at the MAC Championship, going through all the emotions of that game, and watch them win a championship in person.
Next, I want to thank Ross Hall, Brandon Patterson, Sam Robinson, and Josh Pena for being really cool editors, Elissa Kedziorek and Mikhayla Dunaj for being some of the best editors-in-chief anyone could ask for, to Charles Clark, Emma France, Steven Cole, Tirrea Billings, Darel McMillian and Jordan Kopsky at Young Broadcasters of Tomorrow/Western Herald Video for helping me re-discover video editing, to Stephanie Forth for saying what everyone at the Herald was thinking in her goodbye column last semester, and to everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting these last few years at WMU, the Western Herald, YBOT/WH Video, WIDR, and WMU Athletics — there are too many to list here — for being a second family to me. I will miss you all so much, and I really hope we can keep in touch.
Now it’s on to my adult job, and it’ll be weird to not have to make a daily drive to Kalamazoo for class — I learned quickly that gas is cheaper than rent, keep that in mind if you live close, folks — and be with everyone I’ve met these last three years. I hope to come back every now and then and share my experiences at the Herald and at my job to young, budding journalists to let them know what it’s like in the real world, and especially how to balance life, school, and work and not be a mentally unstable wreck.
One last thing before I go: Journalism jobs are out there, and they’re more important than ever. You just have to go and find them. Most of the time, they won’t find you.