Lessons from a newcomer

Published 9:38 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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At the end of January, I fished a pair of suit pants out of my closet that hadn’t seen action since my high school model united nations conference and drove four hours from Nashville to interview with The Shelby County Reporter. Charmed by the shops along Columbiana’s Main Street, I walked through the office doors, armed with a freshly printed copy of my resume and an unwavering belief in the power of local journalism.

Having worked for international magazines and my university publication, my experience lies in art reviews, event coverage and profile pieces. Entering my interview with the Shelby County Reporter, my motto was “I would love to learn.”

Have you ever covered a city council meeting before? No, but I would love to learn. Do you have experience with crime reporting? No, but I would love to learn. Are you familiar with the Shelby County area? No, but I would love to learn.

A little more than a month later, I now sit in the office of the Shelby County Reporter, a new-to-me laptop perched on my desk, and struggle with the weight of the task before me: how to distill everything I’ve learned from my first three weeks on the job into words on a page. But I’ll give it my best shot.

First, taking risks can be incredibly rewarding. Second, attention to detail is everything. Third, the people of Shelby County make everything worth it.

I can think of no better example of these principles in action than through spotted events.

The Shelby County Reporter does a regularly published special photo page in the paper called “spotted.” Essentially, a member of our staff will travel to big events and take photos of the people attending. The subsequent photo galleries serve almost as local paparazzi of who was “spotted” at the event.

It can be scary to interrupt a group of strangers and introduce yourself. You have to present a whole elevator pitch that “Hi, I’m Mackenzee, and I work with the Shelby County Reporter. Here’s what I’m doing and what the purpose of it is. Can I take your photo?”

Once you’ve finished fumbling with your camera, notepad and pen and manage to take a semi-decent shot where everyone is smiling and no one is blinking, then you have to go through a mortifying ordeal where you try to write down everyone’s names and reveal that you’re terrible at spelling, so they have to correct you multiple times.

Finished with all that work? Congratulations! You’ve taken a spotted photo. Awesome. Now go do it nineteen more times.

Despite how scary this can be, every Saturday, I find myself volunteering to photograph event after event. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Do I love doing it? Also yes. And it’s because the people of Shelby County are delightful and I find it incredibly rewarding.

People are never angry that I’ve interrupted them. They ask me about who I am and wish me luck with my new job. They’re incredibly patient as I botch the spelling of their names and help me get it right. At the end of every interaction, I get to tell them when their picture is going to appear in the newspaper.

At the end of the day, I leave these events having meet dozens of new people. I see their surprise and excitement over being included in the newspaper even though they believe that they haven’t done anything special. I’m reminded that these are the people that I’m serving every day and I’m honored that I get to make them feel included.

To the people of Shelby County, thank you for the warm welcome. And if I approach you at an event and ask for your photo, be patient while I’m trying to spell your name. I’ll get it right eventually.