When I was 8, I entered a writing contest at the San Jose Public Library and won first place. I’ve been riding that high for over 30 years. Suck it, other second-graders!
Just kidding. I’m betting none of you even remember the contest. But I do, because that was the day I decided I wanted to be an editor.
See, even though I’d written something so perfectly keyed into the zeitgeist of the early ’80s a library employee put on swim fins and acted my story out in the Children’s Section of the library, I grew up thinking writing was out of my reach. But if I could work with them, if I could read their stuff before anyone else, that’d make me happy.
But I didn’t know how to pull something like that off, so I went to college to get my English lit degree and magically ended up babysitting for the editor of the Broomfield Enterprise. She gave me my first job in publishing — reformatting obituaries.
Skimming thoughtfully penned stories folks wrote about people they loved who were now gone probably sounds like a depressing way to spend two hours on a Sunday, but I liked it. The obits were filled with love and pride and adventure, and I found the task weirdly uplifting.
Within a few years, I snagged a job at the Daily Camera, working in the layout department, figuring out how many pages each section should be, where the color would fall, and finding a happy medium between the amount of space the news and advertising departments needed.
It was a long way from my dream job, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled to wander the newsroom at night, dropping off dummied versions of upcoming papers and chatting with my idols, the people who researched and wrote about everything under the sun, and the people who decided how and when everything under the sun needed to be published.
And then one day, a sports editor decided to take a chance on the layout kid and let me write a story for him. “You find a way to make the missing ad list funny. Let’s see if you can do that with a sport you know nothing about.”
A few years after that, while working part time on my film degree and full time at the paper, the entertainment editor let me write a film review for him.
Since then, I’ve been luckier than my 8-year-old self’s wildest dreams, publishing outdoor columns, a feature piece on a Burmese princess, hundreds of film reviews, and now this column for the past seven years — all because a series of editors took chances on me and were willing to mentor me.
I’ve spent my entire adult life working for this newspaper group, and I could not be more indebted to those who have helped along the way. Last week, one of my mentors got laid off. The stories you see in your social media streams, John Oliver’s rants, The Guardian’s coverage of the Cubs winning the world series — all of that comes from editors and journalists at local newspapers. Those stories get picked up by these larger fish, and eventually land in your Facebook feed as a HuffPost blurb.
I am aware that being owned by a hedge fund means the quality of the work doesn’t compare to the quantity of profit, but every time we lose another journalist, another editor, we lose a chance to learn about everything under the sun. And there’s some kid out there who just won a writing contest who won’t get the encouragement and opportunity she needs because the people uniquely suited to doing that will be busy working somewhere else.
Read more Fritz: coloradodaily.com/columnists