Joe Hedges
Murray State University Faculty
Murray Ledger and Times

Twenty years ago I was publisher of a weekly newspaper in Tennessee. Since then I've spent time in graduate school, public relations, academe and student publications.

The possibility of being a reporter again, if even only for the summer, was enticing. I teach news, advanced reporting and design at Murray State University and have served as adviser to The Murray State News since 1996. The idea of a summer job at The Ledger & Times was an exciting professional development opportunity.

As a reporter and news editor in the '70s and '80s I covered it all - county fairs, school board meetings, fires, tornadoes, a kidnapping, trials, a train derailment, elections, presidents and a host of other politicians. Still as I prepared for my first day at the Ledger in mid-May I found myself anxious - could I still cut it as a reporter? It had been a long time since I did what I teach students to do. I was also entering a newsroom occupied by several of my former students. Would they be looking to see if I stumbled? Would I be successful? I expressed my reservations to one of my non-traditional students who is a reporter in another community; he reminded me that reporting was in my blood and it was like riding a bicycle, the skills would be there. I hoped he was right.

As the new "kid" in the newsroom at age 55, I developed some good stories, took some decent pictures and brushed up on my interviewing and notetaking skills. I won't be giving up my career in higher education to return to a newsroom full-time, but my summer experience will make me a better teacher and better adviser at the student newspaper. I will return to campus with a renewed sense of commitment and excitement about journalism.

In the 33 years since my first professional job as a reporter, the field of journalism has seen many changes. Gone are smoke-filled newsrooms, pica poles, wax machines, morgues, clanging manual typewriters and the AP teletype. However, the smell of ink and newsprint is as intoxicating as ever; seeing the press run is still thrilling; and even after all these years, I get a rush from seeing my name in print. What's still important is good reporting, good writing, advertising inches and getting the newspaper delivered on time. Yes, people still call and complain when their newspaper is late. That's a good thing. When they stop calling, it means they don't care and then we are in trouble.

It's been a great experience. I've been reminded why as a college freshman I found journalism so appealing. Maybe it was thanks in part to Woodward and Bernstein, but it was mainly because I wanted to make the world a better place. The idealism that shaped me as an 18-year-old has been somewhat jaded by life's experiences, but I still think journalism is a noble profession and I'm proud to have been a working journalist again, if even for six weeks. I can return to the classroom better equipped to inspire the next generation of journalists.

To Alice Rouse, publisher at the Ledger & Times, and her staff, thanks for a great summer. Thanks also to KPA and David Thompson for their continued commitment to the internship program.

I think the student who encouraged me was correct - journalism is still in my blood.