One of my favorite things about my “Writers I Read” series is learning how people end up writing and caring about the things they do. Most people slide into what they love over time, or after something drastic happens, like losing their day jobs.
I was fortunate. I found many of my passions — the Mac, journalism, design and photography — all at once.
My high school had an excellent newspaper program. The paper — named The Panther’s Prey — has won countless awards over the years. My freshman year, I applied to work on the staff. While I enjoyed writing, and had dabbled in computer graphics, I was by no means an expert in anything.
Shockingly, the the advisor let me join the staff as a sophomore.
My first job was within the advertising department, working as the ad designer. Before I knew it, I was working with Photoshop 6, QuarkXPress 4 and Mac OS 9 running on a PowerMac G3 All-in-One.
While at first I struggled, I slowly became better at laying out grayscale advertisements. I studied the shortcut sheets for Photoshop and QuarkXPress over lunch. I started building Photoshop actions and Quark templates.
As my skills grew, I got to lay out pages in Quark. Combining photos, headlines, stories and ads on a single page is a difficult task, but I loved it immediately. I still remember the anticipation that I experienced while waiting for Adobe Distiller to pick up a PostScript file in my watched folder and crank out a PDF for proofing.
At the same time, I started learning about the machine I sat in front of for 75 minutes a day. The “Molar Mac” ran OS 9 very well, but some of the other machines the newspaper had didn’t. I learned about AppleTalk nodes, Extension Manger, Rebuilding the Desktop and more.
I quickly became the unofficial IT guy.
It wasn’t all sunshine and puppies, though. When we migrated from a hodgepodge of beige Macs running OS 9 to a batch of second-hand iMac G3s running Mac OS X 10.2 with a PowerMac G4 running 10.2 Server, things blew up.
I attempted to copy the font folder from one machine to all of the others, but didn’t know a thing about user permissions, rendering several of the machine useless until the school IT lady could come fix things — and give me a stern lecture. But like Mac OS 9 before it, I was determined to learn the new OS, and quickly started learning Jaguar’s quirks and tricks.
As I was becoming more proficient with the Mac and creative tools, I was also learning tons about writing. One of the best things Mrs. Fitzpatrick did was make everyone on staff write stories — no matter what their staff position. The newspaper was my first exposure to the AP style, not to mention my first time having my work carefully edited. And sometimes destroyed. While it was difficult to deal with a ton of red ink all over my stories at first, I grew to appreciate the feedback.
I also discovered my love of reading my words — and seeing my design work — in print, in the hands of readers. Seeing my photos printed was even better.
Frankly, publishing is addicting. Clearly, I’m still hooked.
Over the next two years, my time at the newspaper continued to become more and more important to me. I became good friends with my co-staffers — friendships that still exist today. I also grew in my skills, and was promoted to the news section editor, and my senior year, co-editor-in-chief with my buddy PJ.
PJ and I had complementing skills. PJ was much better at writing and editing (and probably still is), and I was stronger on the technical end of things. Between the two of us, we were unstoppable. We re-designed the paper’s look based on feedback we got in several competitions, and published some excellent stories. We pushed the envelope of what had been done at the Prey before us, and worked hard to train the younger staff member to continue without us at the helm.
Looking back, I can’t believe I was so fortunate to work on a publication of that caliber at just 15. In the decade since, I have used all of the skills I started learning in room A–24 at Bartlett High.
Which is what school should be all about.