By Helena Rodriguez
I’ve felt like Jonah fleeing from Ninevah the better part of my newspaper career.
In the process, I’ve made more than a few waves and, in my ignorance, I’ve allowed that Great Whale of Stubbornness to swallow me.
But no more.
This week marks my two-year anniversary of quitting my last “real” reporter job with the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas. Two years ago, almost to the day — and after 13 years working as a journalist — I vowed to never work for another newspaper in my life, let alone have anything to do with journalism. My plan was to become an English teacher in the public schools.
Flash forward to the present. I’m sitting here in a newspaper office writing this column and in January I’ll teach two news writing classes at Eastern New Mexico University. How can I teach students to appreciate a career I’ve been trying to run from for so long?
I’ve come to realize that anything in life worth doing is going to hurt you at times. If it makes you emotional, tests your morals and values, makes you self-conscious and causes you to second guess your own decisions and capabilities, if it tests your limits, shines the spotlight on your shortcomings and occasionally lifts you up to make it all seem worth it — then that’s your calling.
Somehow, at the back of my head, when I said “never again” I knew I’d eat those words. It’s like the words of one of my former editors, Manny Marquez, of the Hobbs News-Sun. When I e-mailed Manny that I was quitting journalism for good he replied, “You’ll be back. Once the ink gets into your blood, it stays!”
I believe it’s not just the ink in my blood, but that journalism is my calling. And it’s only been recently, after working at six different papers, that I’ve finally stopped making excuses, and believe me, I’ve come up with every excuse in the book during my private conversations with God.
“I can’t do it, God. I don’t fit the typical journalist mode. I’m shy. Insecure. Why did I go into journalism? I’ve lived a sheltered life compared to others who are more educated.”
Here’s a big one, “There’s that little hearing problem I have.” Or how about this one, “It doesn’t feel right, God. People treat me with contempt. There’s so much cynicism now toward the media. I’m a single mom. I can’t compete with others burning the midnight oil.”
Those were the big whales of self-defeat swallowing me. But I feel like I’ve broken free of these bonds and that these experiences, both good and bad, haven’t been wasted.
There’s so much I want to share with people and I feel like, thanks to the help of a close friend who also happens to be a counselor, that this insecure person that has been trapped in me for so long wants to break free and not only express myself in writing, which has been the only safe outlet for me until now, but in person, too. I want to put the demons of my past to rest, the demons of rejection and fear, which have kept me from being the fullest person God wants me to be.
I’m also tired of beating myself over the head for stupid mistakes of the past. Journalism can be an unforgiving field that requires perfection. Although we should strive for perfection, no one is perfect. I wasn’t glad when the Dan Rather controversy at CBS broke during the presidential elections. It was a blow to journalism as a whole, especially since it seemed so preventable. But I told myself, “If someone as prominent as Dan Rather can make a major boo boo, which shows he’s human, we can all have our imperfections.” I use to always tell God, “I can’t be perfect like they want me to be. Help me get out!”
I’ve stopped trying to get out. Now I focus on the stories I feel God wants me to tell, hoping it will inspire people from diverse backgrounds like mine, to realize they also have stories to tell. Part of that loneliness I’ve felt in the newsroom has not only been self-inflicted, but also stems from the fact that the makeup of newsrooms has been extremely slow in keeping up with the changing demographics of our communities.
Although I’m not in the newsroom full time anymore, I still consider myself a journalist by trade and I want to teach others who have the same passion for writing to put their whole hearts into it. That’s what we should all do, no matter our calling.
It’s not about fame and fortune, but knowing you’re doing something to make a difference and, even in journalism, you can make a positive difference.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: