Two years ago, almost to the day, I walked away from a three-decade-plus career as a journalist.
It was a good decision.
I had decided to retire during a leap year, and chose Feb. 29, 2020, as my official last day. It was partly an ironic choice and partly significant, as it blocked me from officially celebrating the anniversary for four-year increments.
The thought of my retirement is there every day, as I awake and think of all the things I can do – or not do – from sunrise to sunset and beyond.
It was especially relevant today, as I ventured into the boxed maze of my home office, with an effort to sort through, organize and toss some of my many investigative and story files.
What I found underscored the wisdom of the decision to walk away from my job as a newspaper reporter, editor, digital director, computer person, office mom and sometimes photographer.
There were the voluminous papers from civil lawsuits, criminal court cases and governmental meetings and actions. I expected those, as I covered specific governmental bodies for many years. There also were special projects, feature stories and photos.
But the surprise came when I saw some of the files – like the time I was grabbed by a man at a township meeting and filed a complaint; when I was accused of stalking an elected official (and his wife!) at Burger King (it was dropped, as I was neither stalking nor involved in anything other than reporting the elected official and several others were meeting in violation of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act); and a file on the time when my name and position were the subject of a mail smear campaign during election.
Over the years, I was followed, harassed, threatened and yelled at. I was the only agenda subject of a three-county board meeting, where the members from one county complained about the fact I covered their meetings and wrote stories about what they did and said. The meetings were public and my actions were entirely legitimate and professional. They just weren’t used to media coverage and didn’t like it.
What did I do? I sat through the whole meeting without saying a word, trying not to show any expression. And afterward, I wrote a news article about it.
There was a cadre of elected officials in my home county who just wanted me to go away or stop writing about them. They decided to “find something dirty” on me, I was told by another county employee they accosted – and they went around trying to see if I had done something illegal or wrong.They looked at my property title, my building and land permits, even my tax bills.
They tried to see if there was anything that could prove I was a bad person, so I would stop writing about the bad things they were doing. It would have been so much easier for them to just stop doing illegal and unlawful actions, but they didn’t see it that way.
I never let them stop me, and I tried not to let them upset me, but there were times when it was all too much to handle – especially when it involved my home and my family.
I reported all those activities to people in the position to do something about it and knew that I had the support and watchful eyes of law enforcement and the legal system in my corner. Most importantly, I had the backing of my company, my publisher and my longtime editor.
I kept on investigating, reporting and writing.
I don’t need to have everyone in this world like me, and I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over having a few haters. After all, those who felt the need to hate me and “go after” me weren’t people I needed to befriend.
I did lose a few individuals whom I considered to be “friends” before I wrote stories that upset them. I can say I was honest with them when our paths altered from seeing things the same way to being on opposite sides. Those times were never easy for me, but I weighed the value of the relationship against what I fully believed to be the truth.
The truth, and my job as a journalist, always won.
Just so you don’t walk away from this blog thinking that everything was black and evil in my job, let me assure you there were so many people and stories that brought me so much joy. I believed I could make a difference as a journalist, and I know my life was made so much richer by those who allowed me to tell their stories.
In retirement, I have walked away from the stress and the constant deadlines to an easier, calmer life – where I can decide, most days, exactly what I will do and where I will go.
Today, as I pour through the many boxes of files I took with me, I am proud of the work I did. I am also very relieved to throw some of the bad things in the proverbial garbage, as they are a part of my history, but not my now nor my future.
I will keep all of the 34 years of thank-you notes and letters, however, as they help remind me of the many people I wrote about and who touched my life.
They make me smile.