Fifteen years is a long time to do anything. But it’s not that long if you enjoy it.
I don’t know the exact day, but it was the first week of December 2000 that I became a reporter. I remember my first interview was with someone at Western Taney County Fire Protection District. I don’t remember the person’s name, and I don’t remember the topic.
I was reminded of this anniversary when the person who prepares our weekly Looking Back feature included a column I wrote 15 years ago. I’m officially part of the Branson Tri-Lakes News ancient history.
I’ve always liked being a reporter. Even though I have a relatively reserved personality, I enjoy one-on-one conversations with interview subjects. I like being able to get out of the office. I enjoy photography. I love writing. I really enjoy meeting people and visiting places most people don’t get to meet or visit. For instance, I’ve talked with Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill on more than one occasion — and I don’t even donate to their campaigns. (I do always vote, but I’ll keep that to myself).
Like I say, 15 years doesn’t seem like that long.
Some of you might know I have spent two terms at the Branson Tri-Lakes News. My first stint lasted until early 2007. During that time, the most memorable day of work was Sept. 11, 2001. But what defined my first round at this newspaper was Branson Landing. The project was first announced in June 2001 and was not yet entirely completed when I left.
I have no idea how many stories I wrote about the project, but I got to where I felt like I could recite tax increment finance law just like a lawyer.
It was so full of intrigue. The stories involved business, labor, tax law, environmental regulations, Army Corps of Engineers requirements, floodplain requirements, the National Registry of Historic Places, eminent domain controversy and angry people.
It also involved very long meetings. The city routinely held three- or four-hour public hearings on the Landing. One such meeting lasted seven-and-a-half hours.
Evidently, those sessions of food- and sleep-deprivation were not fun enough, because I moved on to the Springfield News-Leader where I spent six and a half years. I covered a lot less of Branson during that time (although my home always remained here), but I will never forget covering a police standoff at a hotel on 76 Country Boulevard (less than a week before covering a police standoff in Springfield), the grounding of the Showboat Branson Belle, and, of course, the Leap Day tornado in 2012.
I returned to the Branson Tri-Lakes News in 2013. Now that I am the managing editor, I don’t write as many stories as I used to, but I’ve already covered some very memorable ones. For instance, the mayoral election controversy in Rockaway Beach earlier this year was a challenge unlike anything I’d encountered previously.
Fifteen years is certainly a long time, and I feel like I’ve come a long way.
During my first few months on the job, back in 2001, I covered a meeting in Bull Creek Village. Many community members felt like the village administrator was abusing his authority and intimidating residents. At the meeting, residents were angry and shouting. Village trustees were angry and frustrated. The meeting was chaotic. There were veiled threats. When I asked one man if he felt safe, he showed me a gun he was hiding under his jacket. I had the sense he was warning me as much as he was answering my question. (This was before Missouri allowed concealed weapons, by the way.)
I felt completely overwhelmed and I know I missed many opportunities to make the story much better. But I learned and I grew. I think I handle those unpredictable situations fairly well now.
I have no idea how much longer I’ll be a voice in this newspaper. Perhaps 15 more years. If so, I’m sure it will be even more interesting than the first 15.