"One of the best decisions I've ever made"

By The Beacon | January 23, 2014 2:28am

Joe Freeman |

I was 18. I was excited about college and living on my own for the first time. But even more, I was excited about finding my footing and figuring out what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” I was pretty sure I wanted to be a journalist— I had my sights set on being a newspaper reporter — and I figured the best way to make that happen was to join the newspaper staff and start writing.

It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Nineteen years later, here am I, covering the Portland Trail Blazers for The Oregonian — Portland’s daily newspaper. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do.

And it all started with that walk to The Beacon offices. I was challenged academically at the University of Portland through a rigorous, diverse and fun course load. But for journalists — for writers — the best way to hone your craft and find your voice is to practice. And practice means writing. It means reporting. It means learning how to build relationships with people and figuring out how to get them to open up and tell you their stories, so you can write those stories.

Oh, sure, I took plenty of writing classes with plenty of gifted professors. They no doubt helped. But it was the countless hours I spent reporting for The Beacon, the long days I devoted to writing stories that would appear every Thursday in its pages, that helped me the most.

There was no greater thrill than waking up Thursday morning and seeing my name on the front page of the paper. My friends, my peers, even total strangers were reading my work. And that kept me on my toes. I had to be good. I had to feel proud about what I wrote.

But working for The Beacon did more than empower me. It did more than prepare me. It set up my future.

When newspapers and magazines and blogs and public relation firms look to hire writers — even for internships — they want to see proof that the person they are hiring is competent, capable and talented. And they don’t solely judge that based on a college degree or a GPA. They want to see writing samples. When I applied for summer internships while I was at UP, I didn’t just submit a resume and a cover letter and a few references, I also submitted 10 “clips” — stories I had written at The Beacon.

Those clips helped me land my first internship. And then, when I was a senior at UP, the combined clips from that internship and The Beacon helped me land an internship at The Oregonian. It was a snowball effect. My work at The Beacon led to one internship, which led to another, which led to the job I have today.

I was a good student. I studied, went to class, did my work. But not one recruiter or editor asked me about my college classes or my GPA when I was applying for internships or jobs. They wanted to see my writing samples. It was the work I put in during my time at The Beacon that led me to my future career as a journalist.

What if it hadn’t worked out? What if I hated working at The Beacon? What if the long hours at St. Mary’s proved to be too much? Well, I would have moved on to something else, found another field that interested me, and forged ahead toward a different path in life. But it would have been beneficial either way. And even still, 19 years later, I would look back on that walk to The Beacon and think:

It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Joe Freeman is a UP alum and covers the Portland Trail Blazers for the Oregonian. He can be reached at jfreeman@oregonian.com.