Ever since I can remember, I have always had a passion for writing. It started off as short, choppy story sentences I would write for my mother. I am sure they were typical of any scribbling a pre-school kid could do, with ice cream, rainbows, sunshine and other happy things. As I grew older, the sentence-long stories developed into paragraphs and pages, with dynamic characters and enthralling dialogue. When I wasn’t scribbling in a journal of some sort, I was outside, creating a scene with costumes and props. Family gatherings were spent reenacting skits I had created. Around the age of ten, I created my own “newsmagazine,” so to speak, in which I published my poems, short stories, and commentary on neighborhood events. Director, writer, actor — I played it all.
My journey into journalism started my sophomore year of high school at Durham School of the Arts. Prior to that, I dreamed of becoming an author, writing about my life experiences as well as poems and novels. When my mom suggested taking the newspaper course at my school, I agreed not only because I felt it was a more practical venue, but also because I was curious about the craft. How were people able to cover such travesty and beauty in such a concise and effective manner? How were they able to capture the essence of a moment in an objective way? How did they craft their interview questions? How did they manage to speak for victims so clearly?
After two weeks in the class, I knew I was in the right place. Our newsmagazine, The Gallery, published a 24-page edition every eight weeks. Class time was spent interviewing students and faculty around campus or eagerly pounding the keys at the newspaper lab, typing the latest coverage in inverted pyramid style. Durham School of the Arts is a secondary school, so catering to a readership ranging from gawky 10-year-olds to adults sometimes proved a challenge. Yet, it was a challenge I thrived to overcome. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a freshly printed page with your name across the byline. And apparently, I had a knack for it. My senior year, I was acknowledged twice by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for my sound journalistic practice and intriguing article topics. I had finally found my purpose.
For college, I left Durham, and headed west to attend Queens University of Charlotte. While others were second-guessing their majors and concentrations freshman year, my sights were set on a degree in Communication, with concentrations in Journalism and Spanish. I joined my university’s newspaper, where I worked my way from staff writer to managing editor. Late nights were spent in the newsroom, copyediting stories and reworking headlines for the upcoming edition. It was demanding and challenging work, but I loved every minute of it.
After graduation, I landed a job working as an overnight associate producer at one of Charlotte’s prominent television stations. My nights were spent cuing reporters and photographers during live shots, writing stories for anchors, and deciding which news was worthy of the top stories slot. And while I loved the adrenaline rush from working in a large newsroom and meeting hourly deadlines, I felt something was missing. Brainstorming story assignments with the reporters during morning meetings was the highlight of my shift. I would often find myself wishing I was the one heading out the door to cover breaking news. I missed being on the frontlines of reporting. So, I decided to take a leap of faith and began applying to newspapers in the area. While I loved journalism, I knew I wanted to stay close to my North Carolina roots. I had heard stories of aspiring journalists uprooting themselves for entry-level positions across the country. And while I knew moving might be inevitable, my heart ached at the thought of leaving the Tar Heel state.
Fortunately, I never had to make that decision. A government reporter position opened up in the city of Lincolnton, and I snatched up the opportunity. Having lived in the more metropolitan areas of the state, I was eager to hone my skills in community journalism. While today begins my first full week of reporting, I already know I made the right decision to accept the job at the Lincoln Times-News and return to my print journalism roots. I am eager to meet the residents of Lincoln County and look forward to covering your news.
Elizabeth Heffner is a staff writer with the Lincoln Times-News.