It was about eight years ago exactly when I surprised Terry Mattingly by shouting his name as I encountered him on the street. His visage was familiar to me because I’d grown up reading him in “the Rocky” — the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado. My parents had always encouraged my siblings and me to read the newspapers and I devoured both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News every day. Front page to last page. I was interested in journalism from a young age, starting a newspaper at my elementary school and eventually editing the Yearbook at my high school in my junior and my senior year.
But for some odd reason, I never thought of journalism as an actual way to earn a living. I studied economics and headed into a different career field. But all of my journalist friends were having so much fun, even if they didn’t make a lot of money. I asked for advice and then took the plunge, somehow faking good enough Spanish-language skills to get a job at Radio & Records (and its sister publication Radio y Musica). One job led to another and I was living the dream — covering the federal bureaucracy on the waste, fraud and mismanagement beat for a Gannett publication.
I wanted to be writing about things that really mattered, though. Mostly that meant baseball, but also economics. And religion. Like most people, I’m religious. And while I loved reading a good news story about religion, I couldn’t believe how poorly much of the media covered religion news. The laughable mistakes, the complete distortion of doctrine, the hostility. So when GetReligion launched in 2004 or so, I was an early reader. I learned so much. It helped me develop a critical eye — an important first step to becoming a good writer.
By the time I chased Terry Mattingly down the street in 2005, I had begun writing about religion in my freelance time. I found that editors were actually quite anxious to pay people to write reported pieces on news and responded well to informed writers.
I began to pick out some of my favorite journalists, officially on the Godbeat or not. It was a great moment for me when Old Man Mattingly (I think he hates it when I call him that) asked if I’d like to contribute. My first posts took me hours upon hours to write. (The sad fact is that some of my more recent ones have as well.) I’d suspect a problem with one part of a story and that would send me down a rabbit hole of research to see if I was right.
I went from writing a few posts a week to writing almost every day of the week. And in the years that passed, I’ve gone from working full-time at a newspaper to crafting a writing/speaking/editing career out of freelance gigs and contracts. GetReligion has been one of the few constants during that time.
I’ve gotten to work with a great group of people over the years and have developed some of my best friendships with them. I’ve grown tremendously as a writer under the exacting and encouraging editor we have here.
And now I’ve taken leave to start a new adventure at a publication called The Federalist. I am very excited about the new gig, but it’s tremendously difficult to leave GetReligion.
I’m proud of the work I’ve contributed to this site and some of what I’ve been able to accomplish. I treasure the friendships I’ve made with reporters and editors on and off the Godbeat. And I value the feedback of readers who just care about good journalism even if it’s not their chosen career. In fact, I have learned more from our readers outside of journalism than I have even from those within it. I’ve learned to think more philosophically about journalism, its aims and its limitations. I’ve come to learn even more about the importance of ethical journalism in helping maintain civil society.
I sensed the importance of journalism at a young age, and that instinct has only been confirmed with age. GetReligion is a rare project in our current media environment. We care about journalism and those who practice it. We care enough to see it done better, when possible. We want to praise what’s good. There’s a reason tmatt is so insistent that those of us who contribute be journalists: He wants us to be sympathetic to the plights of those working in the current media environment. I commend him for that and appreciate his admonitions that we remember those burdens daily.
Anyway, I’m going on too long. I just wanted to say a proper farewell. I need to thank tmatt for being a fantastic boss over the many years I’ve been here and for helping me become a better writer. His tenacity and encouragement have been hugely influential on me. And I want to thank Bobby and George and Sarah and Elizabeth and Douglas and Daniel and Brad and Joe and all the other wonderful contributors we’ve had here over the years. I’m only sad I didn’t get much time with newbies Mark and Tamie!
For what it’s worth, I’ll still be a daily reader at GetReligion and will pop back around to post when I get a chance. Thanks for some great years, GetReligion community!
IMAGE: Lady saying goodbye image via Shutterstock.