I can pinpoint the second I fell in love with journalism. It was 1996. I was 16. I had volunteered to write an essay for the Red Cloud High School newspaper.
This assignment wasn’t the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein — it was a first-person account of the trials and tribulations of golf, if I remember correctly. But I got really into it, in a way I rarely did in school. I read about the golf swing. I interviewed golf teachers. I did a ridiculous amount of reporting for this single, silly assignment.
But the moment I fell in love didn’t happen until I sat down to write at one of the journalism room computers. I took out my notebook full of notes, started to type and something happened. Something just … unlocked, and I figured out how this story worked. This story about stupid golf was actually about failure and triumph and more failure and obsession. It was fun. Poignant. It had meaning.
That’s the moment I fell in love.
Figuring out how things work. Writing about those things in a way that can entertain or infuriate or inspire. That ain’t nuclear physics. That, to me, is newspaper journalism.
That idea has taken this newspaper, this community and our democracy to some incredible places throughout our shared history. It has taken me to some incredible places, too.
I have been to Afghanistan once, Cuba twice and also to tiny Seneca, Nebraska, where I witnessed a town tearing itself apart, and eventually voting itself out of existence, in a way that previews how our country seems to be straining at the seams.
I have written about innocent men who lived on death row, guilty men who lived in mansions and also an old doctor who nearly went to federal prison when he refused to stop growing bandit asparagus in a ditch.
Best of all, I have been allowed to root around for the small, hidden stories, the ones no one else is telling. The columns that let me, and hopefully you, unite around the triumph and failure, the love and loss, the ridiculousness and the profundity of our time in Nebraska.
The math teacher in Pender who at the end of every school day drove alone to the little cemetery on the edge of town and sat next to the gravestone of his Iraq war veteran son and watched the sun set.
The Omaha nerd who proposed to his girlfriend by designing a video game built especially for her. (Somehow, she said yes.)
The homeless drug addict-turned-Ironman triathlete and the librarian who brings paperbacks and love to the Douglas County jail and the asparagus bandit, too.
Which brings me to a question: Is that stuff, and everything else The World-Herald does each day, worth the $9-per-month price of a digital subscription?
You may have heard we recently had layoffs here, a traumatic day for all involved and especially for those talented people and even better human beings ushered out the door.
But that isn’t why I want you to subscribe.
I want you to subscribe because you get full access to all my columns, all Sarah’s restaurant reviews, all of the quality news, sports, business and feature content we produce every day.
I want you to subscribe because you get a much cleaner Omaha.com experience — no surveys, hardly any ads and crazy-fast load times.
Mostly, I want you to subscribe to renew our journalistic covenant, the handshake agreement that we will continue to do our level best — try to do better — while you continue to support those efforts with your hard-earned money, your time and your interest.
Listen: The World-Herald is flawed. It is human. It will at times let you down and make you mad.
But at our best, we figure things out. We write about it in a way that can entertain or infuriate or inspire. And now we look to you and ask … Is it worth it? If it is, sign up right here.
In the meantime, I will keep going to high school and college journalism classrooms, like I do maybe once a month. And I will tell them what I always have as I look out upon their faces and imagine a tiny, 16-year-old redhead staring back at the newspaper columnist in the front of the room.
I will tell them that there are so many good reasons not to go into newspaper journalism. The pay isn’t great, the hours are worse and the industry’s future looks rocky.
I will tell them there is one fantastic reason to go into newspaper journalism: If you are curious, if you want to figure out how things work and write about it in a way that entertains, infuriates, inspires … then it’s the best job in the world. Then you will fall in love like I do, over and over, for the very first time.