I thought I was being clever when I decided to opt for a master’s degree in Community Journalism over a PhD in Early Modern English History. The professors at Auburn University who had worked for four years to hone my historical research and writing skills sent me off with degrees and tassels waving to the University of Alabama with assurances that journalistic style would come easily. After all, anything should be easier than working in archives and with microfilm and cranking out 40 page papers in the span of a few weeks.
I learned quickly that human sources are much harder to come by than paper documents, writing ledes can be unnecessarily cruel and all of the sudden Oxford commas were irrelevant. Oh, and there’s that whole bit about interviews. It was rough.
Then I found Bryce. For a reporting class, I was assigned a story about a group in Tuscaloosa that was working to fund, design and build a memorial garden on the Bryce Hospital campus in honor of the patients who had been buried there with only a number on their headstone. http://www.mh.alabama.gov/brycehospitalproject/default.aspx I couldn’t have hoped for a better subject. It was interesting and my sources were thankful that someone, even a lowly graduate student, was taking an interest in their efforts. That was my “Ah-ha” moment. http://www.spj.org/quill_issue.asp?REF=1966
I loved it. I loved the people, visiting the hospital, learning its history, touring the cemeteries, hearing the stories. So much so that my next story felt impossible. I put off reporting and writing; it just didn’t feel right. My fiancé dubbed it “the Bryce high,” and that’s exactly what it was. My moment of journalistic epiphany had taken me to the metaphorical mountaintop and it was frustrating to come back down.
I, of course, eventually found my way back to gratifying journalism, but I keep chasing the “Bryce high.” Three months later, I caught it once again when the story was published in the Tuscaloosa News. http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20130106/NEWS/130109877