sunday spotlight rachel H. T. Mendell marilyn l davis

The Reporter Life

Editor’s Note: 

We strive to bring our readers all types of writing: poetry, memoirs, academic essays, expository essays, value-added essays, etc. Today, we have an essay from a former reporter. I enjoyed this fast paced memoir about her life on the job, it was a fun read. For those in the audience who are interested in becoming a reporter, it will be an intersting and informative read for you as well. Enjoy. 

By Rachel Mendell

Up at 4 am. Out the door by 4:45 am before my family was awake. That’s how my day started as a reporter for the newspaper. I wasn’t sure how I could make it work, but we needed the extra money to get our budget breathing again. My husband is a good provider, but work was slow.

At the daily paper, I read pages, did edits, wrote stories and occasionally ran to take a photo before the 7:30 am deadline. I loved these exhilarating morning assignments. The only traffic to worry about was school buses and domestic athletes on their way to the YMCA. Grab a photo, rush back to the paper, download, write the cutline, submit, all while the editor is saying, “I needed it 10 minutes ago!” Then back to work on the next edition AFTER a fourth cup of coffee. We were always working a day ahead, sometimes two or three.

Writers Block is for wimps.

At 10 am, I was excused to go home to my primary job – homeschooling our six children. My oldest was in charge of any morning emergencies until I arrived home. Then the school day began. By 2 pm the work was finished. Free time included naps, reading, television, video games or watching a pre-approved movie. By the time my dear husband came home, I was ready to get back to the newspaper for interviews and meetings. Some days were easy, and I was home by 7 pm. Some evenings, usually Thursdays, were filled with late-night city council or school board meetings. Our readers expected a Thursday night school board story in their Friday morning edition, so, I would stay until the story was finished and filed (submitted) – sometimes until midnight. I worked quite a few 12 hour days.

The staff (which included the front desk, stringers, publisher, editor, graphics department and advertising) grew close and sometimes got into each others business. But that’s what happens when you share the stress. Election time was stressful; elected officials wanting ads bigger than their competitors, letters to the editor bordering on libelous, complaints about too much election coverage, complaints about not enough coverage. Then on election night, we all stayed up late to report returns with the added stress of trying to contact the losers for quotes (winners were easy to find).

One Friday night, while waiting for pages to read, I took some time to figure out how many words I was actually cranking out a day. I calculated that writing the required two stories per day for six editions per week equaled 1,500 words per day, polished and submitted. I took a moment to sip my Red Bull and relish the accomplishment. Some days were hell, no doubt about it, but at that moment I knew I had made it as a writer. My story files were bulging. I had to buy a second contact card box. I was learning to listen, to set myself aside for the story, to focus on one main point, to write clearly, and to list details to brighten a story.

It was a fast-paced life, but I’m not regretting a minute of it. Writing full-time (50 hours a week) was an incredible education. I learned to write quickly and type fast. I worked with seasoned newspaper staff, learned the ropes of politics and how far to push an elected official. I learned the complicated infrastructure of a state office, how to interview military people, doctors, CEOs, managers, business owners and state senators. I argued with lawyers. I hung out with school staff, took photos and handled complaints. I could bore people with finance and complicated grant funding. I could read a police report and write a short blurb that made sense. (I hated going to accidents and fires and usually begged off when I could.)

But most of all, I learned self-discipline in my writing. The stories HAVE got to get in. The newspaper stops for no one.

I grew a thick skin. Some of my editors were harsh and frequently threw back stories for a rewrite. It took months before I understood what they wanted. I learned every writer needs an editor. They sharpen us. They make us sound good.

I learned the art of creating a grabbing lede, writing a quirky cutline, and composing in the pyramid style. I struggled with transitional sentences and conclusions. But then one day an entire story seemed to write itself. The sports editor read it and said, “It doesn’t suck.”

I had arrived.

And I met some incredible newspaper people: a sports editor that typed over 100 words per minute with no mistakes, a retired editor who wrote sports and sometimes politics (a wealth of advice), a plucky reporter who knew she couldn’t get a raise unless she moved up to editor – and did at a sister paper, a young reporter who was swayed by her friends and stressed to the point of breaking, a retired photographer who always read my stories and gave me pointers on my photographs (and called me “Kid”), just to name a few.

It’s a crazy life and I highly recommend it for any writer wanting to stretch themselves. You may not write fluffy stories with happy endings but you can add details to a story in creative ways – ways that bring color and vibrancy, making the reader take note.

Don’t get me wrong. The newspaper will chew you up and spit you out. I’ve watched reporters and editors crash and burn. But if you love to write and have the energy you can make it, even if it’s just for a year, it’s worth it.

Author’s Bio:


Rachel H.T. Mendell writes freelance from home in her office that she grabbed when her sixth child moved out, which is much nicer than the converted closet she wrote in for almost 20 years. Rachel writes novels, poetry, plays, essays, columns, articles, short stories, long letters, devotionals and experimental allegory. She has been published in various magazines as well as the Galion Inquirer, The Morrow County Sentinel, the Crestline Advocate and online at Richland Source. You can find a few of her articles in Heart of Ohio Magazine and floating around cyberspace. She keeps a blog, Domestic Mobility (, and has recently started a website ( Rachel happily answers emails at She is married and has seven children and one grandson. When Rachel is not writing, she’s gardening, caring for chickens, rabbits and cats. She lives with her family in Morrow County, Ohio.

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  1. Hello Rachel,

    Thanks for the insider knowledge of what it takes to be a newspaper reporter. I admire you – it could not have been easy.

    • It was tough to learn – I had a tough editor – but once I got the basics, it was a wild ride! I highly recommend it, but not for too long … wears you out! Blessings!

  2. Hello Rachel,

    Thanks for the insider knowledge of what it takes to be a newspaper reporter. I admire you – it could not have been easy.

  3. Hello Rachel,
    Thanks for the insider knowledge of what it takes to be a newspaper reporter. I admire you – it could not have been easy.

  4. Rachel,
    This made me tired! I wrote a newsletter which went out once a MONTH and I was stressed by the deadlines for it! I can’t imagine. One thing you illustrated so well is that every job teaches through experience and newspaper work sounds like a school within itself. Thanks for sharing. Welcome to Two Drops!

    • Thank you, Michelle! I had to take a nap after writing it! … I started writing for the newspaper when I was 43 … most people were surprised that someone “so old” would start that job. The hours fit and I was desperate … and it all turned out well in the end. I moved around newspapers – there was down-sizing and lay-offs happening all around me … then I was pulled from a nice quiet country weekly to be the editor of a city daily. Yowzah! What a shock! After three years I was getting sick every week with migraines, and eating tons of stress food and gaining weight. I finally got the message. At 53 I quit. I did some freelancing, but the stress symptoms returned … I finally swore newspaper writing off for good. Now I’ve found blogging and I totally LOVE it! Thank you for your comment! … I think I’ll just go take another nap …

  5. What a wonderful story about perseverance and passion for writing. You prove my motto: if you want to do something, you will find the time to do it.

  6. Rachel, I love this glimpse into the world of newspaper reporting, it is very interesting. I can see why you say writers block is for wimps, I guess in the news industry that stories are driven by events that happen in the world. Looking at those things happening, like school boards and crime reports it is easy to see the actions of others drive the writing. It is a different type of writing to that of novel writing. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Peter for reading! You are right about the actions of others driving the writing. But there were slow news days … no meetings, no activities, no crime (that we knew of) … those were “follow up” days … wracking our brains to come up with follow up stories … how will this decision effect the city, interviews with students and teachers that received the certain award at the last board meeting. There were plenty of days we scrambled for stories and prayed they wouldn’t sound stupid. The newspaper is a big black hole for information that must be fed! LOL! Have a super weekend!

  7. Hi Rachel,
    I enjoyed getting a peek into the life and times of a journalist through your post. I could feel the fast pace and sense of urgency present in the news room through your descriptive words.
    I did want to be a journalist in my younger days. I first attempted to join the Navy Waves because the recruiter told me I could earn a degree in journalism while enlisted. However, after taking the admissions test they wanted to put me in mechanics! It seemed I scored very high on that part of the test. I didn’t want to admit to them that I had actually played “ennie,meanie, miney, mo” in order to guess at the answers. Fortunately, I didn’t make the final cut because I was 5 lbs. underweight! I then got a music scholarship and figured I would enroll but take journalism classes instead of music. That plan didn’t work either as my scholarship required I take 17 hours of music classes so there was no time left to pursue my burning journalism passion! So, although my life took a different path than the one I had envisioned, your post has allowed me to relive that youthful dream!
    I don’t know how you managed to keep up that pace! Homeschooling is demanding enough! We homeschooled our boys from K-12 and there were many days I wondered if we would survive!
    You have impressed and inspired me!

    • Thank you! Wow! Just boys! That would have driven me crazy! I had girls to soften by boys a bit … to be fair, my children all helped each other out and I also made sure to find the most student-centered curriculum so they could do most of their work on their own – really helped when they got to college.

      I started writing for the paper when I was in my 40s. Most of my children were in their high school years. Everyone told me I was too old. But, I found that raising children was the best training for the reporting job. I was efficient and detail oriented – being a mom trains us that way. AND as you can see, I burned out! I am so happy to be freelance!

      You have an awesome website, by the way!

  8. Hello Rachel, first off, I think homeschooling your kids is the greatest gift you can give them. I applaud you for that accomplishment.

    Your story gave me a fascinating glimpse into a side of reporting I never really thought off. I picked up on so many value bombs in your writing. Meeting people, applying a different style to different types of individuals.

    The one excellent point I picked up on most. Practice, Practice, Practice to become better at writing.

    Did you want to become a reporter?
    I appreciate your post here today. John.

    • John! Thank you for your comment. I also am an overthinker…. LOL! NO! I did NOT want to become a reporter. In fact, at a writers conference I had several people tell me I should look into “stringing” or full time reporting work. I just thought that was odd. Me? Write for the paper? I wanted to be a novelist.

      I gave some writing workshops at the local library (to meet other writers, ’cause I was lonely) and a reporter came to cover the event. She said, “We need a reporter. You would be good.” … What she actually meant was “We need someone to fill the spot the last reporter left, like, right now.” They hired me on the spot. My training was “here’s a camera, grab that notebook and pen, go to Rotary.” I learned by doing, which, for me was tough and humiliating. I was always making mistakes those first few weeks because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Finally I got smart and started reading the Toledo Blade, The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. I learned from the best that way. I also found an old journalism book and worked through that. Nope, no journalism degree. I have a degree in teaching. Weird, huh?

      • Very awesome! I did get the impression you went through an accidental apprenticeship. I’ve lived my life by this concept. It has served me well. Anyway, I’m really happy you landed here. I look forward to some more stories from you. I’m always interested in learning from others like you. Thank you Rachel.

  9. Hi, Rachel. Thank you for this inside edition. One of my first jobs was as a very under-assistant at a small weekly paper in Salisbury, Maryland. I got to cut and paste paper-doll images for the advertising department, and then take them for proofing at the stores. Reading your post brought back memories of the smell of ink in the basement print shop, cigar smoke that formed a perpetual cloud around our editor, and the endless sound of percolating coffee.

    Again, I appreciate the detail that you’ve given us to understand the long hours, the deadlines, and the personal commitment that it takes to get a paper out.

    Great addition to the Two Drops of Ink library of writing knowledge.

    • Thank you, Marilyn! So cool to hear you did cut and paste! I started when the cut and paste was replaced by a graphics department of four and reporters did everything on computer (the software was NewsEditPro) But, that said, the Shelby Globe (Shelby, Ohio) still does cut and paste. I did a tour there and it was fascinating to watch: sort of a hybrid of Old Style and Computer Tech. When I started a few staff members still smoked in the office, but when the health department cracked down that stopped. This is politically incorrect, but that was a sad day. The newspaper runs on stress, like a gray cloud of fuel … when the smoking stopped it felt a little like the power was gone. One of my friends told me about the ’80s. He remembered the door to the editor’s office opening and a huge cloud of smoke preceding whoever had come to visit him … a little like an epic scene from a super hero movie!

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