Here's Johnny - Writing about the world
After many moons in television, radio and print journalism, it took a middle schooler to come up with a better way for me to explain what I do and why I do it. The setting was last Friday morning at Woodford County Middle School's Career Day. Waves of students were armed with Bingo-type cards with occupations inside boxes that folks like me and police officers and wellness experts stationed at card tables around the gym were to stamp. The kids didn't have to ask a question about our occupations to get them stamped, but most of them did, and if they were feigning interest in what I do for a living, well, God bless 'em. At least none of them called me a member of the Dishonest Media who spreads Fake News. But I digress ... Here are some of their questions and a few of my answers: Nathan asked, "How long does it normally take to write a newspaper?" I explained that I only wrote parts of the paper, and that workhorse Bob Vlach and horse fan Rick Capone wrote plenty of The Sun. One lad asked me whether I share my political views. I responded that in my news pieces, I didn't - but that in my column, sometimes I did (ala five sentences ago). Several children wondered whether a college degree was necessary to become a journalist. I told them that a bachelor's degree was usually required, but it didn't have to be in journalism. My history/government major and the five-plus years of radio, television and newspaper work I'd done in the Navy had gotten me my first post-Navy jobs. And my winning smile. A boy named Coby (and two other kids) asked me to put him in The Woodford Sun. A girl asked me to take her picture and put it in The Sun, and to tell my readers to follow her on Instagram. I told them I'd do what I could. I may have joked once or twice that getting into big trouble would help their chances of making the newspaper. I'm pretty sure they knew I was joking ... After 10 minutes, any concerns I'd had about the students only interested in my card stamping abilities had vanished. In fact, what with answering their questions, writing down my favorite inquiries and the names of some of the authors and stamping their cards, I was getting a little dizzy. Lizzy asked, "How do you find the best and deepest stories?" I don't remember my answer to that question. I wish I could, as I could use the information on a daily basis. Two kids asked who was the most interesting person I'd interviewed. I told them that off the top of my head, I wasn't certain, but that it was almost certainly a non-celebrity (though I've got a great Charlton Heston story I'll share one day). I told dozens of students that even if they didn't become journalists, being a good communicator would help them in whatever occupation they chose, and that they'd get their way more often with their parents, too. To one boy who seemed slightly disinterested, or perhaps just skeptical, I added, "It'll help you with the girls, too." He perked up a bit at that, so I didn't add that good communicators can still be big doofuses with girls. Dylan asked, "Did you dream of this job as a child?" I explained that while I didn't recall any such dreams, by the time I was in high school, I was pretty sure it would be a fun way to earn a living. One boy looked at the name tag on my table, which said: "John McGary. Woodford Sun. Writer." He exclaimed, "You're the Woodford Sun!" I reiterated that plenty of other folks produced his hometown paper. Several kids asked a variation of this question: "Is it hard?" Sometimes, I said. A boy named R.J. pinned me to the table like a dead moth: "So you're a writer. How many books have you written?" "I'm working on my first," I responded, adding, somewhat defensively, that I had written many thousands of stories for television, radio and print audiences. (It has been suggested that a relatively easy first "book," or something akin to it, would be a collection of the least-terrible of these columns. Dear Readers, whaddya think?) A few students asked some variation of this question: "What is it you try to do with your stories?" My response was that a journalist's chief mission was to seek and tell the truth, but that, subject matter and my ability permitting, I like it when a reader thinks, or laughs, or even mists up a bit. Then came Jacob, whose follow-up to what I'd thought was a concise explanation of my career was a major improvement. He said, "So you go out in the world and write about it." Jacob, please forgive me if I borrow your words and don't always credit the source when I'm out in this world, writing about it. And thanks.