How one question fuelled a lifelong creative career (and keeps going)
I got my first taste of professional writing when I worked as a summer student at the Simcoe Reformer — one of the last daily community newspapers in southern Ontario.
Do I remember how much money I made that summer? No.
Do I remember the names of anyone I worked with? Barely. But I’ve also never been good with names.
The only thing I really remember is when the assignment editor (Greg something?) gave me a quick briefing and said “let me know what the story is when you get back”.
The questions must have leapt off my face:
Aren’t you supposed to tell me what the story is?
How do I know it’s a story?
How will I know you’ll like it and print it?
His response to my face questions framed my creative brain and set me on a path where I’ve made a living telling stories.
“Go out and get as much material as you can. You’ll know when you have a story to tell me and we’ll figure it out.”
For the rest of the summer I did exactly that.
I found the story of a long-forgotten children’s entertainer who needed to sell his priceless puppets to pay his bills. The story found someone in the community who grew up watching his program and she reached out to see how she could help.
I found the story of a deep-sea diver who uncovered countless shipwrecks in Lake Erie. His actual name is Davey Jones and the local maritime museum donated a wing of his discoveries named “Davey Jones’ locker”. When I interviewed him, I remarked at the giant posters of his deep sea photography hanging on the walls of his sunroom. That’s when he confessed he lost his eye-sight in recent years and was now legally blind. The blowup photos are the only way he can see the treasures he’s uncovered over the years. I still tear up at the memory of him pointing to a photo of his late wife, a photo almost the size of the wall, saying “I’ve enlarged that photo more times than I can remember”.
I fell in love with storytelling that summer and dedicated my life to telling stories — other people’s stories and now my own. I’ve adapted my story telling style to fit network TV in news and lifestyle. And now I’m using my storytelling skills to help others elevate their thought leadership.
No matter how I’ve managed to make a living in media, it always comes back to that same piece of advice: just go out and see what you can find. You’ll know when you have something to work with.