The first story I ever wrote was (as is true for most beginning reporters) a crime story. A “Peeping Tom” was stalking women who lived in a neighborhood in west Fort Worth. Dozens had spotted the man peering in their bedroom, bathroom and kitchen windows. Many residents were afraid. Finally, they formed a neighborhood watch group to catch the culprit. I kept them informed about the latest sightings and the efforts to stop him.
I was 9 years old.
The stories I wrote were printed – literally one-by-one and by hand – in a “newspaper” that was delivered to every house on the block each week. I modeled it after the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the newspaper I read, even then, every day.
The peeper was never caught, but he backed off. And, me? I was hooked.
I’ve been working in the journalism business ever since – more than 25 years writing stories for state and local newspapers and magazines, and winning a fair share of awards for my work in the process.
My first “professional” gig was working for the Reflector newspaper at Tarrant County Jr. College South and later for the Shorthorn, at the University of Texas at Arlington, where I earned a B.A. in Political Science. I say they were professional positions because I got paid to write – by the word, no less – and had the opportunity to learn from some of the best journalism instructors in Texas. It was also where I learned to be “wordy,” or as I liked to think of it back then, fiscally responsible.
During my years in the journalism business, I’ve been a staff writer for several newspapers in the North Texas area, including the alternative newspaper Fort Worth Weekly and the daily Fort Worth Star-Telegram. My writing has appeared in the Texas Observer; San Antonio Current; Fort Worth Business Press; Dallas Business Journal; and Dallas Child, Fort Worth Child and Austin Child magazines, among others.
I’ve even had a couple of disastrous stints at community newspapers, including one with a managing editor whose work experience was in dog training. (I’m not making this up.)
As a result of my work, I’ve been invited to speak to various groups, lauded with awards, threatened with lawsuits and, in one case, with death. I’ve carried the autopsy photos of a baby girl’s tiny body in my purse for weeks; hidden behind a pole to surprise the mayor of Fort Worth after he refused to talk to me; and was stalked by someone who called himself “The Black Scorpion Militia.”
The story that garnered me the most attention was one that came to me almost by accident. I was sitting at my desk after a grueling few weeks of finishing the story (A Death Foretold) about the death of baby Maranda Bush. Trying to compress, I was basically goofing off, playing on my computer, when my phone rang.
“Will you listen to my story?” a man said. What followed was an hour-long interview with the man who would, one week later, invade a youth rally at Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church and kill seven people. The story was all over the news that night, but the identity of the killer wasn’t released until the next morning. When I stumbled out of bed and turned on Good Morning America and there, staring me in the face, was a Texas driver’s license photo with the name “Larry Gene Ashbrook” printed above it.
I recognized the name immediately, “Oh, my God, that’s the guy,” I thought to myself. I tried to call my editor but no one answered. I tried to call colleagues but they didn’t anwers, either. I couldn’t even reach my husband. I pulled on some outfit or other and sped to work, just happening to meet my editor in the parking lot. “Write,” he said. “You’ve got four hours before we have to send it…. Just write.” I did.
The days that followed were and are a blur of limousines, interviews on local and national cable television news networks and on radio shows all over the country. I even sat on a panel and went (by remote broadcast) head-to-head with power lawyer F. Lee Bailey. My only regret was I didn’t have time to wash my hair. That, and later being told by my editor that I had “gotten the big head.”
The story landed me a Dallas Press Club Katie Award of Excellence. (I know, but it used to be a big deal.)
I can’t say my career hasn’t been a wild, exciting, interesting, extremely fun – and sometimes crazy—ride.
Times are changing for journalists, however, and now I’ve become a reporter in several outlets besides print, including online publications and social media. I’ve become a teacher and a public speaker and I think, finally, it’s time I had a forum of my own.
Hope you’ll stop by often, read the posts, leave comments, start arguments and generally help me tell stories that need telling. After all, aren’t great stories what it’s all about?