Journalism: A life I am happy I left behind
As I approach the one year anniversary of the Hotard Huddle this month, this post marks the 100th of the blog. I didn’t want to do something sports, WWE or entertainment related. I wanted to do something a little more personal.
When I began this blog, my very first post talked about what the Hotard Huddle was designed to be. It is an outlet for me to do something I have always wanted to do since I was 10 or 11 years old, write and talk about sports. It is a way for me to do so without an obligation to be filtered or censored. This is all me. No one is in my ear telling me what I can and cannot do. Quite frankly, I think I’ve done well. I enjoy coming up with new posts and spitting hot fire back and forth on the podcast.
I have friends and family who enjoy reading my blog and listening to my podcast. I have even picked up a few fans from friends of my friends. That is pretty cool to me. What you are about to read is breaking character for me.
In my work, the intention is to be an arrogant and unfiltered commentator. And to some degree, I am both of those things, but some things you may read on this blog or hear on my podcast tend to be a little more colorful than I would be when the microphones are off (opposite of anyone in the media or in the sports world) and the keyboard is locked away. This is what started the Hotard Huddle…
Disclaimer: to protect friends and even people I despise, I will not name drop anyone or any company. I will also try to give the shorter version. I could probably write a book on this so bare with me.
College at The Greatest School in the Land
When I chose to attend Nicholls State University and major in Mass Communication focusing on broadcast journalism, my ambition was to move out of state and become some hot shot sports journalist/broadcaster. Many friends, teachers and relatives always had my back and supported that. My supporters would tell me that I had a great talent and they fully expect to see me face or hear my voice one day. Thanks to the internet age, you can. It just won’t be on ESPN.
I had a blast in college. I had my own college radio show for two years, which I fell in love with. I served as sports editor of the Nicholls Worth. I spent four glorious years working for the football program with someone who is now one of my best friends. College treated me well and I am proud of everything I accomplished as a Colonel. I learned about being accurate and fair thanks to some really wonderful mentors and teachers. You guys know who you are should you read this. I learned where to draw the line. As always, I had no problem calling things the way I saw them. One of the things that my student advisor for the paper always said she respected about me. That always meant a lot.
For those who may not know, I am a big fan of Colin Cowherd and that is who felt like when I was at Nicholls. There are a lot of people I graduated with who may laugh at that, but I don’t care. I was involved in most of the on-campus media. I had no problem calling a spade a spade. Although the following was a small sample size, who cares? I am glad I could entertain them.
Post Graduation – Finding My Stride
Upon graduating, I quickly found a part-time position for a local radio station in Houma. Additionally, I found a freelancing gig for a newspaper down in Houma. Everything started out great. I got both of those opportunties as soon as I graduated. I think there was maybe a two week period of sitting around, which was fine by me. I just finished college. I wanted to relax a bit.
I was doing commercial work for the radio station and working with someone who is now a great friend of mine. I truly cherished that job. I loved going to work. He and I would have a blast recording and cutting up the commercials while we went back and forth quoting wrestling promos. We called ourselves the Rock and Sock Connection. Yeah, we are fucking nerds. Deal with it. It was one of the most fun jobs I ever had. The only problem…it was part-time. Had I wanted it to be a full-time gig, I could have done sales for the station. While I was happy they were willing to get me started as a full-time employee, it just wasn’t something I could see myself doing. I will cherish all of those people I worked with. You guys were always great to me.
Meanwhile, I was also freelancing for a paper covering the local summer baseball league. The guy I worked for is someone I enjoy seeing and talking to when we cross paths. He was always helpful. He let me write as I saw fit and gave me tips to be a better sports writer. Again, another wonderful experience. It just wasn’t full-time.
It was shortly after, I was hired full-time as a reporter for that paper’s competitor doing news. It was full-time and was the first nibble I had got so I felt like I had to take it.
First Full-Time Gig
I had to leave the radio gig behind in addition to freelancing for obvious reasons. I had been hired as a reporter in news…something I had never done. However, being fresh out of college, I was thrilled about the opportunity.
The first day was rough. I found myself feeling lost and unprepared. It was a Monday which was a production day because this was a weekly published paper. I basically sat around editing stories and hoping I was helping. It was actually awkward because I felt so damn lost. It was a smaller publication so there were only five or six people in the office. At least I wasn’t surrounded by dozens of people. I made it through though with no wounds. YAY! Day one down! Breathe Michael.
Day two was actually worse. Again, still feeling like a lost puppy, it was our weekly staff meeting where we brought our story ideas to the roundtable. I literally just started working in the area and my expertise is in sports…shit! What do I do? I was losing it because I literally had nothing. I didn’t realize I would be assigning myself stories. I thought that would be done by my editor.
When my only stories were sports related, I could tell our editor wasn’t exactly happy about it. Great start Michael. It just kept getting worse from there.
As hard as I worked and as much effort as I put in, nothing seemed to be good enough. I began feeling like I wasn’t any good at my job, which is a miserable feeling. It was like quicksand. The harder I tried, the more I sank.
It would literally take me three to four hours to write an 800 word article, which is ridiculous (considering it took me 40 minutes to write this 3000+ word post). I couldn’t figure out what the lead of my story should be. I would retype it dozens of times and get halfway through the article and delete it all because I had no confidence and thought it sounded stupid. It would kill me when I would see my byline in the paper and the article looked nothing like what I had typed. I kept being told to look at poynter.com and do some lessons on there.
I am already working 10-11 hours per day. Even after I made the hour drive home, I was still working once I got there. In addition to second guessing my writing, I kept forgetting to take pictures for the stories I would cover so I would use whatever I could find. I sent pictures to our editor for one particular story and it was from my phone.
When she saw the pictures, she scolded me from across the office at how low quality they were for print and why the hell am I taking them with a phone? I asked what she wanted me to take them with. She then realized she never gave me a camera. She did apologize, but it was after everyone left the office after I was humiliated.
I would still come to work with a positive attitude making the best of the day.
I remember one particular day. I sat in my car and cried because of how miserable I was and how worthless I felt. I was terrified of being fired because I had a wedding to plan and a house to renovate.
Time to be the Punching Bag
By this point, I was drinking a six pack (I am a lightweight) every night, which was enough to get me nice and trashed. I would finish typing the last word of whatever story I had that day around 10 or 11 at night. I would then pop open the first brew of the pack and basically drink myself to sleep. There were literally nights I would fall asleep in the middle of playing Call of Duty. Wake up around 4 am sitting in my chair, controller in hand.
The weekends were not much better. I never wanted to go anywhere nor do anything because I had work to do. Once I finished my work, I wanted to sit around and play video games and forget the real world existed. I can’t believe my wife stuck with me through it. You are awesome!
After about two months of working there, we found out our company was being bought by another publisher in the area. We were picking up and moving our office. The transition was a train wreck because our editor could not stand having authority over her. At which point, I became the punching bag in our office.
My desk was two feet from her and I constantly felt like my every move was watched. People in the office would browse the internet on production days when we were waiting for stories to come in. I would do the same until one day my boss bitched at me for doing that when another employee was talking about a sports column he saw no more than five minutes prior. But since I did it, it was apparently a big deal.
I had to cover a luncheon one day. I got my interviews and pictures for the story and chose to skip the meal. I came back to the office to get my ducks in a row to write the story. I had planned on going to grab a hot plate from Rouses and eat there. When I announced that I was going to lunch, I got an ear full from the editor because I did not eat at the luncheon. Sorry Hitler, did not know I was told when to eat too.
These little things just made life absolutely miserable. It was a constant emotional beatdown. Here I was, not being able to do a damn thing about it.
The Boiling Point
I was about halfway through my tenure with the newspaper when I realized how shitty of a career journalism was. I was asked to go with one our other reporters to take pictures at a child’s funeral. He was shot by police. It was a terrible tragedy. Although the family said it was okay for us to be there, I still felt dirty.
I also did not understand why I had to be there considering I had to drive an hour from my house on Saturday…just to take pictures. Especially when other employees live much closer than I do.
I spent four hours at this funeral running around with a camera taking pictures of a crying mother and family…feeling like a total asshole and knowing there was literally nothing I could do about it. I thought about turning around when I pulled up and just never going back to work. However, I knew the consequences for that.
After covering the funeral, I was to get six “Man on the Street” questions. It was where we had to ask locals a specific question and get their picture and quote for the paper. Again, no help with this at all. All the while, my wife and I had some wedding planning to do and my boss knew that. Seven hours later, I finally made it home.
Speaking of weddings, I also had told my editor at one point that I was engaged and we planned on taking our Honeymoon to Disney World for 10 days and that I would be taking roughly two weeks off…that was a fun conversation.
I walked in and told her in confidence to which she had the nerve to respond, “we’ll see.”
She said it in a way that basically said, “yeah, you’re never getting that much time off, you idiot.”
This was still really early on in my tenure with the paper so I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t fed up at that point. In my head, I was thinking “yeah right bitch, I will be in Magic Kingdom no matter what you say, you stupid idiot.”
It was the time.
I was placed on probation because my editor felt my “effort” wasn’t there. I did not agree with that at all, but whatever. I busted my butt and I know how many hours I put in. I had been moved away from doing a lot of the news meaning school board stuff because those people spoke in a language I didn’t understand. My focused had changed to our lifestyle section.
Despite still getting my ass chewed every day, I actually enjoyed the day a little more when I got to leave the office and let locals tell me their stories. I started to really find my stride with the lifestyles section.
I thought for sure I was doing better because my boss would tell me so in our weekly meetings, despite all the bullshit she would yell at me for throughout the week. She needed a punching bag because again, she hated having people over her.
Well, when it came time for our yearly evaluations, I was told I would not get off probation because the editor felt I was more motivated and doing a lot better so she wanted to keep me “focused.” No bitch, you just wanted to keep me on ice.
Time to be an Asshole
It was at this point, I literally stopped giving a shit. I would turn in stories later even though they were done. I was purposefully making her job harder.
I would wear a V-Neck T shirt and jeans to work on days other than casual Friday, when I wound wear slacks. I really just stopped caring.
I still did justice to the people who told me their stories because I still enjoyed talking to them. My content was still there so I thought that might be a saving grace for me.
Remember that Man On The Street thing?
Someone didn’t do their job so I had to cover that at the last minute and get six people to answer a political questions to publish in the paper. Yeah, that will happen with four hours notice.
I went to the library, the only place we could do it. We were kicked out of the mall and Books-A-Million. I asked probably 25 people in four hours to do the MOS for me. It was political so people weren’t having it. I wound up getting four people to answer. I went back to the office because it was production day and I knew we were getting close to a time crunch. I told her what happened and she goes off on me.
I snapped finally and told her “you are fucking kidding me right now, right? Here I am doing you a favor because someone didn’t do their fucking job. I literally came here to ask for your help and get some suggestions on how I can get these last two. Do your job as my boss and help me out. This is fucking bullshit.”
The person who was supposed to do it got two of his friends to send over headshots and quotes. I did that once before and guess what happened? I got chewed out for it. Meanwhile, I am sitting at my desk fuming.
The Final Straw
It was our normal Tuesday meeting and our editor had informed us that we hired another full-timer. Something that had been talked about even before I was on probation.
She told us in the meeting that nothing changes, she specifically looked at me and said you are doing great in lifestyles, we are going to keep you focused on that and this person will come in and help with the news side.
Friday rolls around and I turn in all my stories and literally as I am walking out the door, the editor says our GM wants to see us. I knew what I was walking into. I was fired.
My editor then has the nerve to place all the blame on our GM after the meeting because she didn’t want to look like the bad guy. She was great at that. She said she was told that we were keeping everyone on staff. Yeah ok Pinocchio, your nose just poked me in the eye. I still see past your bullshit.
I walked back in the office and start clearing out my desk and then this bitch tries to hurry and get me out the office. No woman, you’re on my time now. I no longer work for you. I snapped and said “I have to get my stuff. Leave me in peace.”
I also took the liberty of deleting all the contacts I had saved. It was probably around 150. Sorry to the next guy, who apparently was a total moron. Good hire.
I lost all interest in writing because I felt like I was no good. I had another potential job opportunity for another paper, but decided to take a job that is nothing close to journalism. It was the best decision I ever made.
After a year of being completely away from writing, I decided to start the Hotard Huddle. I once again found my love for writing. I don’t care if it ever makes me money. I don’t care how many people read it. I do this because I enjoy it. To my friends and family who read my posts and listen to the podcast, thank you. I am glad you guys enjoy it.
Don’t Feel Sorry For Me
I didn’t write this in hopes that everyone would feel sorry for me. I didn’t write this to vilify one person. I wrote this to shed light on a cut throat industry where the pay sucks and people (especially Louisiana) are mainly arrogant buttholes.
It is an industry where nothing is as it seems. No one will actually have your back. I thought certain people were my friends when they weren’t. It is an industry filled with people who will hide behind a computer or newspaper, but have no balls to say anything to your face. The industry is softer than a man with erectile dysfunction.
There is a constant struggle of figuring out if your job is actually important. To tell you the truth, for most journalist, it isn’t. No matter what you do, you will look like the bad guy to someone. It may be the readers or the source.
To anyone looking to go into this industry, don’t say I didn’t warn you. This was in smallsville, Louisiana. Imagine doing this in a big market.
If you’re willing to be emotionally beaten for low pay, then go for it. I thought I was. I found out that it wasn’t for me.