When I was in high school, I swore I would never work at a newspaper. They were boring in comparison to my goal of being a writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
But as my dad Art Martin always says, “Don’t say you ain’t; say you’d rather not.” Looking back, that was the first time I realized the truth to Daddy’s advice, which would later become topics for dozens of columns I would write.
On June 1, 2000, at the tender age of 19, I walked into the Minden Press-Herald newsroom, anxious and terrified of the foreign career of which I was about to embark – a career that would eventually mold my much of my adult character.
I had never done any reporting – only feature writing as the editor of my high school yearbook. I had no degree. I had never even heard of the AP stylebook, aka the journalist’s bible. I still remember that first day. Karla (then-Sumrall) handed me a press release about the library’s summer reading program and told me to call and get a quote from Eddie Hammontree and rearrange the copy into a story. I stared at the press-release for about an hour as I carefully planned what questions I would ask this Mr. Hammontree to turn the most compelling library story ever written.
I finally summoned the courage to make the call, and when I realized Mr. Hammontree was actually Ms., all of that careful planning went out the window as I was completely thrown off guard.
In that split second, I understood this was a job in which I could assume absolutely nothing and question absolutely everything.
That rewritten press release was my first byline in the next day’s paper. With all of my years of writing, I am still unable to put into words the feeling of seeing my own name atop a story – though the last name has changed a few times.
Over the next 15 years, I quit and returned to the Press-Herald three times though I will spare the details of when and why. While it did have a reputation of high turnover, all of the people who walked through the doors every morning shared an unspoken camaraderie of accomplishing the daily task of putting the news of Minden into its residents’ hands. We were a family who laughed and cried together – sometimes it was personal; sometimes it was what we were publishing that day.
As I reflect, I realize I always think about the people I worked with outside of the building, the experiences of getting the stories to craft at my desk. But now that I think about it, the times inside those cubicle walls putting the paper together were just as unique.
I was always super intimidated by Mr. David Specht, aka “Senior”. There were some mornings he would circle the newsroom as a vulture does roadkill. I would focus intently on my computer screen, furiously and loudly typing as I pounded out my daily story so I would look like a serious journalist and not get called into the office. He conveyed all business and no play.
But as the years passed, he would stop and peek over my cubicle as he circled and say “good morning.” Those quick greetings eventually turned into me busting into his office to announce my latest scoop or seek advice on the best way to handle a story.
I have so many stories I could tell about the shenanigans that went on in the newsroom. Even omitting the ones that aren’t print appropriate, I have hundreds of great memories of my time at MPH.
While these may not be understood by most of you reading this column, it does share an inkling of how we got through the days of getting the news.
Dummy front pages of fake stories – especially Gregg Parks’ story of Connie Banta’s “methane” problem and Jana Ryan’s big (insert expletive) crash story
NIMP-P – The most memorable of the many unique visitors that came to the office seeking news coverage. I was on deadline so Daniel Davidson, aka “RBD” got the privilege of meeting this rapper and reviewing his CD
The crazy hiding spot – not because I was crazy, but I because I needed a place to hide while Josh Beavers soothed the ruffled feathers of those upset about a story (thanks, Dennis)
Clifton – C.J. Cheatham’s inflatable party friend who found his way into Nila Johnson’s desk chair
The snake phobia – one day Josh will learn his lesson
I suppose my absence explains why the newsroom is so much quieter now.
Back to my “assigned” topic.
Any reporter will tell you – no other place smells like a newsroom and the first time you smear ink all over you in grabbing an edition hot off the press, it’s in your blood. It’s literally in my own as I have “MPH” tattooed on my foot in a flower vine. I always said if Senior fired me, I’d be a race car driver and it would stand for “miles-per-hour”.
I grew up in that newsroom transitioning from clueless teenager to successful journalist. I never in a million years imagined that my time in that newsroom would lead me to covering presidential campaigns or stories so ridiculous they were picked up by media outlets around the world (illegal to wear pajamas in public – yeah, that was mine).
I am forever grateful to Tracy Campbell for taking a chance on me. The Minden Press-Herald taught me things I never would have learned at j-school or any other job, and during my tenure, I honed the skills needed success in any situation I found myself – reporter-related and otherwise.
I am truly honored to be a part of the Press-Herald’s 50-year history and proud it remains a community staple in an ever-changing industry.
In the words of the autographed NIMP-P poster that hung in the newsroom, “Press on, Minden Press-Herald, press on.”
Kristi Martin was a reporter and editor for the Press-Herald from 2000-2007 and in 2014. She currently resides in New Orleans where she is the business development representative for Jefferson Financial Credit Union and a student at the University of New Orleans.