From A to Zowie
Ten years as a writer
By Richard Zowie
Ten years ago, as I drove down to Prime Time Military Newspapers near Lackland Air Force Base on San Antonio’s southwest side, I was nervous. For months, as I prepared to leave the Army, I’d occasionally e-mail the publisher ask if any journalism positions were open. Each time she’d tell me they didn’t have any but that my writing samples looked very good. As my discharge drew closer without a job lined up, I worried what the future held.
A few days before the publisher had called, and I interviewed with her. Now it was time for the second interview with her and the publisher and editor of the Kelly Observer.
That interview went very well, and just a few days after my Army enlistment officially ended on February 21, 2000, I began my writing career as a staff writer for the Observer. And then, a year later, as a columnist for the Bee-Picayune.
That was then: today I work at the Genesee County Herald in Clio, Michigan (a small town about 20 miles north of Flint). It’s actually two newspapers: one edition covers the northern Genesee County areas of Mt. Morris and Clio and the other edition covers the southern Saginaw County areas of Birch Run and Bridgeport. When not doing that, I also work on freelance assignments and try to refine my fiction. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of being published in a few places: Air Force News, the San Antonio Express-News, and Recreation Management magazine.
Over the years as a writer, I’ve had a chance to work with many wonderful people, along with some who have taught me a lot by teaching me how not to do something. Along the way I’ve stepped on my share of land mines.
Over these 10 years, here are what I consider the Three P’s of Journalism:
Be Professional. When talking to someone, stay with the topic at hand unless perhaps a side comment can somehow lead to the person revealing great information for your article or information that could lead to a future article.
Be Polite. Treat those you deal with in a respectful, friendly manner. It goes a long way, especially if the person has had bad experiences with the media in the past.
Be to the Point. Assume the people you deal with are very busy. Once you introduce yourself, get down to business. When done talking to them, thank them for your time and leave it up to them to leave the door open for further comments.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of writing some memorable stories. Among them…
…During Air Force Day at Dallas Cowboys training camp in San Antonio’s Alamodome in 2002, I got to briefly interview Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Was I nervous? Does it get hot in Texas summers?
…Earlier in 2000, I wrote an Express-News Memorial Day feature article of an Army buddy whose father posthumously received the Medal of Honor in Vietnam by throwing himself onto a grenade.
I’ve also in my ventures met a kidney transplant recipient who, after 15 years, needed another kidney and learned his medical insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. Then there was the 102-year-old lady, whose secret to longevity was dipping snuff (I kid you not).
Sometimes I’ve even met a few famous people. For one unpublished feature article about his minister-at-large position at San Antonio’s Oakwood Church, I interviewed San Antonio Spurs star and NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. (Being 5’8”, I barely came up to his waist). About a year ago, I interviewed and took pictures of Marlon Young, the lead guitarist for Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band. Young was very friendly.
Years ago in the Bee-Picayune, I wrote about writing and said this: writing is an art, not a science. As I’ve continued to grow as a writer, I feel that’s a comment that must be modified. Writing is a science in that you must learn the fundamentals, grammar rules and spelling. But it’s also an art in that you must develop your own individual style. It’s difficult to practice your art if you don’t have a grasp of grammar or if you can’t spell words.
Where would I like to see my writing career go in the future? In a few directions: journalism, blogging (which I suspect is where journalism’s slowly going) and fiction writing. Perhaps I’ll have those things to report on in 2020 when I write about 20 years.
In closing, here’s my favorite story in the past 10 years: While working at a newspaper in Comal County, we had a weekly question we’d ask of local residents for our Word on the Street segment. One week it was asking if people voted, the other week whether they planned to buy former President Bill Clinton’s then-recently-published autobiography, and so on. Some residents would decline to pose for a head shot while others would give their first name only.
One lady gave a great answer to one of the questions but then declined a photo or to even give her first name.
“Are you just shy?” I asked her.
She laughed. “Not really, but I do have a few outstanding warrants for my arrest, and the authorities don’t know I’m here in Canyon Lake.”