The first news story I ever wrote was a piece about the Alice Food Pantry needing donations. I still remember the nervous feeling I got when my editor, Pete Garcia, handed me the assignment. Looking back now, I understand that the story, while important, was not exactly challenging. It was a standard piece about how people could make donations during the Christmas season. But at the time, I was clueless about how to proceed.
You see, I don't change jobs that often. And when I took that first assignment for the Alice Echo-News Journal in December 2003, I had absolutely no experience as a reporter. I had spent the previous eight years doing insurance billing for a doctor's office and had obtained a piece of paper that said I knew some things about history and English. I had never taken a journalism class or worked for a student newspaper, I didn't know how to conduct an interview and was not aware of a thing called AP Style.
I got through the interview all right, scribbling furiously (which compared to most people is still pretty slow) and wove the most complete story about how to provide food for the needy people of Alice anyone has ever written, ending with some very good information about how people could contribute. Pete was very kind about the story and politely explained that in the newspaper business we put the important information at the front of the article, in case an editor needs to slice the story down to make space in the paper. It was completely against everything I'd been taught in my literature classes - you were supposed to save all your good stuff for the end of the story, not give it away at the beginning. But, I made the adjustment and continued to make the adjustments that Pete and my managing editor, Nicole Perez, encouraged over the next few weeks. Gradually, I got the hang of it, and over the next several years I got to write stories about topics as wide-ranging as a civil trial over hidden gold, flying with the Blue Angels and a little dog named Puddles.
When Nicole and Alice Newspapers Inc. Publisher Tony Morris asked me to take over as managing editor for the Nueces County Record Star in September 2008, I was honored and excited for the opportunity. It was a great chance to learn new things and grow as a reporter and editor. And I was extremely fortunate in that the newspaper already had two very fine employees - Tim Olmeda and Irma Reyes.
Tim had already been at the paper two years at that point, and patiently explained the issues and recent history of the area. He also taught me the basics of newspaper design, something I had always been interested in but had never had the opportunity to learn. If you look on our staff list to left of this page, Irma is listed as the "graphic designer." We use that title because "She Who Runs Everything" is a bit too long for the space. Irma put up with my many questions and explained more about the operation of the newspaper than one person has the right to know. Both of them approach what is often a very stressful job with an ease and humor that made my transition extremely smooth.
I've had a lot of fun with them over the past two years, and consider my time in Robstown the most rewarding of my career so far.
And now, after seven years working for Tony and Nicole, it's time for another change. I'm looking forward to the new opportunities and new lessons at the Kingsville Record, although I expect to feel some of the same nervousness I did on that December day in 2003. But, as strange as it will be to work someplace new, I'll have a little more confidence, knowing I'm taking with me knowledge learned from some of the best in the business.
Christopher Maher is the former Managing Editor for the Nueces County Record Star.