I have three passionsfamily, including our various pets, journalism, and travel. Since journalism led me to Rumpus, I’ll focus on that.

I graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Florida after a circuitous route, both age- and geography-wise. I came to love journalism in high school, when my English teacher encouraged my writing and even took the time to explain writing career options. Before then, I don’t think I knew what a journalist was. Later, journalism was cemented as a possible career because I absolutely hated math.

Middle age is how old?

Fast forward from high school about 18 years. I am 32 (hence the age-wise), sitting in a freshman general psychology class with a bunch of fresh-faced teenagers and an assistant professor probably younger than me, finally on my path to journalism. The teacher asks the class what they consider middle age, and the consensus was 28 years old. Yikes, I thought, I’m an old lady. And truthfully, I was one of the first of a rush of old ladies, and men, to go back to college. They even developed a strange name for us (SOTAs). I’ll let you ponder the acronym.

Wetaskiwin is where?

Geography-wise, I will keep my circuitous route short. My husband, a veterinarian, and I moved from Australia to Canada after his graduation from veterinary school, at 21. We had a grand plan to work there for a couple of years and then spend our money seeing as much of the world as possible on as little money as possible. That plan came to a screeching end when we had two children in 12 months and had to quickly become responsible adults and parents. So, after four years in a James Herriott-like practice in the freezing wilds of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, David decided he should do a residency. He was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania and after completing the residency, was offered a job at University of Florida. Off we went to Gainesville, rather than back to Australia, which was what I’d always expected to happen eventually.

Journalism to the rescue

I was devastated, and finally getting my journalism degree at UF was my trade-off. I graduated in 1987I was working as a medical secretary and taking care of my kids, so it took six yearsand my degree changed my life. If I added my fourth passion, it would be “Proud to be a Florida Gator.”

I have loved my career every single day at my various jobs, starting at daily newspapers, now at Rumpus, and everything in between. But, everyone knows what journalism iswhether they love it or hate itso here are some not-necessarily-journalism experiences/lessons from a decades-longyes, many decadescareer. 

  • All was not equal At my first newspaper, a New York Times regional paper, our executive editor (dubbed our executive flight attendant by our cynical sports department) was the first woman ever in that position. Two of us were hired right out of UF as assistant news editors, with equal (i.e., total lack of) experience and the exact same responsibilities, Yet, I soon found out that the other (male) ANE’s salary was much larger than mine. So, I went marching off to the EE/EFA, thinking it was a mistake and a female boss would definitely agree with me. Instead, her response was, “But he’s the primary family earner, and you are only the secondary earner.” Enough said. She refused to treat most of the newsroom women equally, and I vowed I would always mentor every young woman I could.
  • Age sometimes counts — When I graduated, I was told it would be hard to get an entry-level job “at my age,” which did not turn out to be the case. An even bigger surprise was that I was hired by a large South Florida paper with a reputation for hiring only kids straight out of Ivy League schools. I later asked the managing editor why he took me, and he said he was ready for someone “who was somewhat mature, and had lived life a little.” Timing is everything.
  • ME’s management lessons  — The same ME, who was a bit younger than me, became my mentor. Besides journalism, he taught me three important things.
    • His mantra was “I’ve never met a story I couldn’t cut.” In newspapers especially, you have a set amount of space to fill, and if the story is too long, it has to be cut to meet the space. He taught me that clear and concise writing was the best writing. That anecdote may be cute, but if it adds nothing to the article, it’s gone. I took his advice to heart and later was dubbed “the cutting queen.”
    • He taught me how to run a meeting. How many, long, boring, waste-of-time meetings have we all attended? (Not at Rumpus.) He always said he was paying us too much to sit in meetings. For example, at the daily front-page meeting, each editor would present what they thought should go on the front page and why, he would lead a short discussion, and decide “yes” or “no.” If something needed to be done (i.e., more details), someone had to take responsibility for that, and then the meeting was over. About 10 of us were making important decisions, yet the meeting seldom took more than 30 minutes.
    • He taught me how to “punish.” One evening before he left, he asked me to ensure a certain article got in the paper somewhere. I forgot. The next day, realizing what I had (not) done, I came into the expected, but dreaded, “Come see me in my office.” In his office, this was the conversation:

“You forgot the Trump piece.” “Yes, I did. I’m sorry.” “It won’t happen again, will it?” “No. Never.” No railing, no making me feel bad or stupid. Two minutes, tops, and I never forgot again.

    • Gossip trumps tickets  — After my work week, I commuted four hours from South Florida to Gainesville and only three times in four years, which was a miracle, was I stopped on I-75 for speeding (i.e., really speeding).
      • The first time was during the William Kennedy Smith trial, and the cop, after I told him where I was going in such a hurry, wanted to know if Kennedy Smith 1) was guilty and 2) would get off. I told him yes and yes, and he sent me on my way.
      • The second time I was on my way home from work around 2 a.m. I told the cop I was on my way home from work. He asked me where I worked, and then if I had more information about a recent murder, and also sent me on my way.
      • Third, I was in Gainesville on my day off when Hurricane Andrew was about to hit. Everyone was forced to evacuate and I-75 heading north was like a parking lot. I, on the other hand, was the lone car going south. A police car did a U-turn to chase me down, and then escorted me so I could get to work faster. Almost the entire newsroom—hundreds of us—slept on the newsroom floor for two nights while covering the story. 
  • There’s nothing like a breaking story — Very few jobs have finite daily deadlines, but they certainly taught me to manage my time. From the time when I arrived at my desk, when my first job was to talk to our bureau chiefs around the world about their stories for the paper the next day, to meeting three deadlines a night or there would be hell to pay, to changing everything right before deadline with an breaking story—when the first Gulf War broke out, we stopped the presses to change the front page story—everything was an adrenaline rush. But, you learned the importance of, and when and how, to take mental breaks. One of the fun downtimes was after the first edition was rolling, we would all sit around the chief copy editor and work on improving our headlines. We came up with some great ones, although few were appropriate to see the light of print.
  • At the end of the day — We put the third edition to bed at 1:30, by then pretty tired, but still energized because we had made our deadlines with a pretty good product. Plus, we always knew the El Cid, a dingy bar across the street that existed only for the newsroom staff, was waiting. Camaraderie is always necessary for a good product or project, which we must not forget in these times of working from home.

At the end of the road was Rumpus

How did I end up at Rumpus? After more than 20 years of newspaper journalism, I took a side path to a non-profit for five years until I was burned out and my love of journalism beckoned me back. I began freelancing, with much of the work in the veterinary field, including Veterinary Team Brief editor, and now Rumpus. As editor, I am happy and grateful to still be involved in good journalism.

I believe Rumpus, in its own way, represents the best of journalism. We all strive everyday to produce not only excellent blogs, but also work that enhances the veterinary profession and its dedication to improving the lives of pets and pet owners. 

Can we Google the future?

Journalism has changed so much. Some for the better, especially because of technology. Some saddens me. I hate that journalism has become politicized and personalised, without being labeled as such. But, there always has been, and, I believe, always will be journalists whose only goal is to provide accurate, objective, clearly written news. And, hopefully, the watchdog role will—should—always be necessary in a democracy.   

I wonder about journalism’s future. My grandson, at about age 2, asked me a question I couldn’t answer. “Then, grandma,” he said, “get out your phone and Google it!” Google is definitely the future, but also part of the problem.

I also wonder what those freshmen now think of as middle-age? SOTA, by the way, stood for Students Over Traditional Age.