I don’t know what drew me to choose high school journalism in the beginning. Maybe the attraction was my desire to become active in high school activities, despite the fact that I was unable to attend most student events.
My parents were both very ill, with limited resources that would not allow school activity participation outside the home. Adding to this, I was new to the school and felt like an outsider. I wanted to get to know more about my fellow students and the interests and challenges we shared. I saw journalism as a way to participate and contribute without actually attending events.
Journalism class had a reputation for high standards bordering on elitism. Despite a tough first year in journalism class, I was not deterred and found I loved writing. Eventually I rose to the level of student editor. I learned to interview my peers and add depth to my articles with research, building valuable skills that came into play later in my life.
Our lessons in good journalism often examined reporting in The Columbian as an example.
In my junior year, I heard The Columbian was offering a chance for each school to have a student reporter, and I eagerly applied. I was selected to represent my school as a Hi-Times editor. I joined an amazing team of fledging journalists who took the role of promoting their schools very seriously. A friendly rivalry began as we all tried to get the best stories published. I had to cover all aspects of the student experience, requiring me to sharpen my reporter skills to write about a wide range of subjects, from sports to the arts. I was fortunate to have that role for two years. After graduation I kept writing and submitting articles.
Ironically, The Columbian’s support of student journalists had a role in me getting into an unlikely career: finance.
In the early 1970s, I unexpectedly became a single mom looking for a career to sustain my family. But, due to my family circumstances, I had never been able to attend college. Despite this, I was called in for an interview at a local hospital for a job as night business office supervisor.
While interviewing with the hospital’s chief financial officer, I was puzzled by his interest in my journalism background. He showed me a number of publications about hospital finance. He had just been elected to the Washington-Alaska Healthcare Financial Management Association board, with responsibility for publications.
In addition to learning medical office management, I assumed the role of publications chair for that organization, with responsibility for producing material about budgeting, finance and the new wave of Medicare regulations.
Without a background (or interest) in finance, I had to dig deep to learn everything I could about the mechanics of running a multimillion-dollar business. To my surprise, I had affinity for subjects related to laws and regulations. This led to a series of promotions and national publications, providing me an unusual level of visibility in my new career that would normally take years to achieve.
Although I went on to get a bachelor’s degree in finance later, I still credit the role journalism played in preparing me to cut through complex projects and identify underlying issues. Finding the “who, what, when, where and why” provided a novel but efficient way to identify the critical path without getting distracted. I also found that telling a story improved my ability to get projects approved. Publishing my articles promoted my ideas, which led to a later career in consulting and engagements as a national conference speaker.
My original goal, to widen my network of friends in school, also came to play a role in my career. As I relied on research and networking to learn more about health care and finance, my contacts expanded from regional to national, giving me a wider professional base. A bigger bonus was the supportive group of colleagues and friendships which have enriched me personally over the last 50 years.
Now celebrating 50 years in health care financial management, I appreciate the “hard” skills I got from my journalism experience. I also see the subtle impact that journalism had on my confidence and self-esteem. I realize how community support allowed me a dream of accomplishments far beyond the challenging circumstances I grew up in.
When asked how I chose my career in health care financial management, I point out that many people do not choose their careers — their careers find them. In high school I would have never imagined the career and experience I gained from that small step to study journalism and join The Columbian’s Hi-Times team.
Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: email@example.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.