When I was in college, every Saturday August to December was spent with countless hours covering college football. The hours I didn’t get paid for driving to far-away universities. The free time I devoted to working on the game stories that counted and the features that were extra. Maybe it was the stadium lights and smell of AstroTurf, or maybe I genuinely loved reporting–but I never complained about the overtime or weekend work.
Sure the game reporting was the glamorous part of my job.
Just hanging out on the sidelines at Death Valley with Anne Baker.
But those late Wednesday nights agonizing over the manifest with my fellow editors? Those nights were the ones that no one else on campus knew about; and the nights that I still somehow adored. Did we get the right stories? Do we have the right hierarchy? Were there enough quotes in that story? Did we cite the right sources? Does the picture match the story?
Working in newspapers wasn’t for the faint of heart or for those who prided themselves in lots of free time outside class.
Those of us on the newspaper staff were bonded in ink and coffee. They were relationships I could compare to few others because beyond the hours we shared editing or comparing news, we all cared on a core level about the motivation of our job. We all shared that idyllic philosophy about serving the community through providing balanced media. We were some pretty self-righteous college students : ).
So much time spent with this crowd. Photo credit to the gloriously talented Alisha Park Dakon.
News was a passion. Sports was a lifestyle. But, writing has always been my tonic.
2003 – I start my first journal and I still have one to this day (oh wow, hello 10-year anniversary).
2004 – I had my first reporting job with the local newspaper covering education.
2005 – I helped start our high school’s first online newspaper.
2007 – I joined The Appalachian, Appalachian State University’s student newspaper.
2008 to 2011 – I was able to report for publications across the East Coast and online covering various sports and athletic teams.
Reporting, while I have tried to deny it a couple times, has almost always been a part of my DNA.
But sometimes life happens. And you graduate college in the middle of a recession looking for a job in a dying industry. Newspapers weren’t hiring and while online publications were, I suffered a bit of a crossroads crisis. Communications overall has always been a passion of mine––I had a degree in Public Relations as well, after all–maybe I should broaden my skill set.
At the time I was in a serious relationship that had always been long distance. It was time to give local a try. So, Winston-Salem it was. And keeping with journalism wasn’t in the cards.
I went door-to-door with advertising agencies. I had no experience; but knew that I could be a quick study and I truly always had loved branding and marketing. I loved the science behind consumer behavior and was fascinated with creative campaigns.
Luckily I visited Woodbine on the day that their CFO had five minutes to spare for a little blonde girl knocking on the door with a resume and ready smile. I swear if Wanda hadn’t spent those five minutes then, she wouldn’t have been there to say “I think we should talk to that Ashley.” I wouldn’t have gotten that job in advertising and I wouldn’t have been able to spend three years at an agency that became my family. (Wanda and I fell in a different kind of love that day—three years later, she’s my Winston-Salem mama.) I’m going to save that for a separate post though.
Advertising was great. It was. And I invested myself. I learned about the industry. I immersed myself in my clients.
But journalism was still tugging at my heart.
Maybe it was the day that I watched too many episodes of The Newsroom or maybe it was watching too much Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News. But I had a very clear moment on a late August day one year ago that said:
I need to try again.
From the moment I graduated from undergraduate I knew that my education wasn’t over. Academics have always been a huge part of my life and focus. My mother works with the county school board and my father is a (in fact, my) high school chemistry teacher.
It was time to consider graduate school.
Still fresh off of a break-up and re-evaluating where my heart was and what I wanted to do with my life (I have been high on embracing my time) I decided to give it a shot. What does it hurt to apply?
I picked three schools:
– Northwestern University
– Syracuse University
– Boston University
I wanted to go back for journalism to jumpstart back into the industry, connect to more people who could move me forward faster––and to more importantly, enter a segment of journalism I don’t have any experience in: broadcast. Cue that speculation over Newsroom getting to me.
All three schools were relatively challenging to expect getting into. Northwestern is the Harvard of journalism schools. Syracuse’s sports journalism graduate program is practically a direct feed into ESPN’s media room and Boston University had one of the strongest hands-on programs in a major media market that I could hope for.
Three agonizing months went into the applications. And then more agonizing months waiting on responses.
The first came on a Friday evening. I was sitting eating Chinese food and remarking on how few plans I had for the night when the phone rang.
“Hi, is this Ashley Davis?” the voice asked.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Well, we just wanted to call and let you know that you’ve been accepted to Northwestern’s Medill School and hoped to start your weekend in a good way by calling to tell you the news!”
I think I choked out a “Wow,” and a “Thank you” before dissolving into tears and calling my mom.
Overwhelmed was probably the first and best word to use.
Holy crap, I got into Northwestern. My confidence level on getting into the other two schools immediately jumped. Although, I secretly was hoping for Boston.
Blame it on visiting the university and seeing my birthdate on a quote in the COM department lobby (superstitious much?). Or blame it on a desire to be in a city where it seemed the connection to opportunities would be insane. Regardless, I was excited to hear about all three schools.
And one by one the acceptances came in.
I was stunned.
I would only go if it was overwhelmingly obvious that I should go.
And then there was a late spring day where the email came that not only was I offered acceptance in Boston, I was offered a substantial scholarship. And you know what else? I had some friends who needed a roommate. Oh, and also there are some assistantships with my name on it.
What more could I ask for? It had to be.
I had to turn down Northwestern and Syracuse––and let me tell you, it was far from easy. Northwestern? I mean, come on. The kicker that made my decision? I could’ve bought a nice house or went to Northwestern. Sadly, it was a financially charged decision. For Syracuse? I decided that if I had chosen Syracuse I would have inevitably went straight back into sports. I love sports. I know that I can do sports. If I wanted to do sports I don’t think that I would have to go back to graduate school.
I want school to challenge me outside my comfort zone. I want school to offer abundant opportunities for exposure to new things, new experiences, new skills and settings. I thought Boston fit that argument better. And God seemed to be pushing me in that direction, as well.
Looks like I’m a Boston Terrier these days. What in the world will I do not having black and gold as my school colors!? : )
One year later I have had to put in my notice at Woodbine. I have had to spend three tearful, wonderful, fun-filled, fully lived months of summer in a city that I have learned to love with friends who have become family. I have worked a full notice and helped transition projects that have been my babies. I have packed up an apartment that watched me grow up in a new way. I have shared an apartment one more time with a college roommate and very best friend. And I have driven the 2.5-hour drive from Winston-Salem to Waynesville one last time as a Winston resident.
As I drove that route last night through all the tears I cracked a smile thinking: If my life were a movie, this moment would unavoidably be a scene. Regardless of if I go to school and am a raving success taking on Savannah Guthrie and Katie Couric in 20 years; or if this risk goes insanely wrong and I find myself in a lost place in three months—REGARDLESS, this is a huge game changer. That moment; this week, is officially on the books as a game changer.
I have closed an adventure and I’m embarking on a new one.
In the end of the first Newsroom season, there’s a big focus on “the greater fool.” Per the show, the greater fool is the person who will buy long and sell short. You have to have a greater fool for anyone else to profit. The greater fool is idealistic and naive. They don’t know necessarily what they’re losing but only what they hope to gain. In a lot of ways the greater fool sounds like the not that you would want to be; but without the greater fool and risk then there’s not the hope of growing. Without whisking you up in an Aaron-Sorkin style diatribe, suffice to say this is resonating with me right now.
I just quit a full-time, great job to go back to school full time. I just walked away from a stable income to go into debt. I just abandoned an industry that is fully focused on sales and increase for an industry with unknown growth.
But I want to do the news.
And I want to try to make a difference.
And I want to write and report and share stories.
And something tells me that without being a little naive I would never have taken the risk.
January 2013. I made a pit stop to check out the school just in case. “Just in case, I’ll take your picture” Sarah said. Just in case. Notice my look of shrugged shoulders and non-committal, I dunno. Just give it six months, Ashley.
I fully and inherently know that the HBO Newsroom is not a real newsroom. But it’s a nice explication of what’s happening in my heart.
Another pretty of me on campus. Isn’t this university beautiful!? Also, please note the torrential snowfall. Homegirl is going to be investing in some WARM clothes.
So now this explains how #25: Apply for something outside of your comfort zone. Be it a mission trip, race or whatever I’ve wanted to try in the past but chickened out on. was crossed off.
You’re only 24 once, right?
Now I can also cross off #10: Continue my education. Enroll in a class or make a point to find non-traditional ways to keep challenging myself and growing. And also, hopefully soon, #18: Be published in a news forum that I haven’t been published in before.
Two days of family and then Saturday I start a Daddy-Daughter road trip to the North.
Boston, watch out––southern accent in tow.
New adventures to hit the blog starting <now.>