Opinion: Lessons Learned in Phillipsburg, N.J.

My guest column in my last issue of The Free Press

My guest column in my last issue of The Free Press

 

I worked at The Free Press (Phillipsburg, N.J.) for about a year. I left when a publisher from another weekly called me out of the blue and offered me an editor position. I hated to leave Phillipsburg and my amazing publisher Enid, but I had long ago learned that regrets often stemmed from not knowing “What if?”

The Free Press was a weekly paper, paid subscription, mailed to those who subscribed. At the point I started working for Enid, I had already freelanced for a decade. This was my first full-time journalism position. I was sitting at my desk in our very tiny newsroom on September 11, 2001. The experience of being part of the media, even if only part of a small local weekly, gave a haunting layer to the tragedy.

After a year as editor of The Blue Valley Times, working with my former science teacher, Larry Cory, I joined the staff of the start-up weeklies from the Morning Call, known as The Chronicles. I returned to Phillipsburg, and in the three years that entity existed, I made some relationships that last until today. Phillipsburg still holds a special place in my heart.

And it’s not just because the gas in New Jersey is cheaper than Pennsylvania. And it’s not because the gas stations are full service.

 

 

I vowed never to be a journalist but life disagreed

My first appearance in a daily, 1994

My first appearance in a daily, 1994

In 1994, I hadn’t even declared a major yet. After three years of high school journalism, I had taken a college-level journalism class and had some experience writing features for a local weekly. I accepted a job as a freelance “stringer” for the Newark Star-Ledger. I traveled across Warren County, New Jersey attending municipal and school board meetings. Then I called the editor on the desk and read him my notes.

This was before cell phones and filing by internet. (I’m a dinosaur!)

It was brutal. They always asked questions to which I never knew the answers. They paid well, but the editors often reduced me to tears. One nice editor offered me advice. Call before you leave the site. Make relationships with the people at the meeting and ask for a number where you can reach them. (I also was polite enough to ask how lateĀ  could call.)

I hated it. I vowed I never wanted to be a journalist.

Funny, how life changes…

The article in the photograph is the result of my reporting. While it’s not an official byline, it’s my first appearance in a daily newspaper.