Sophomore slump? Find inspiration

It was a slow Monday morning in July. I had the day off from my internships, so I cozied up on the couch with a cup of coffee and typed up an email to my all-time favorite columnist, John Kass. He writes a Page 2 column for the Chicago Tribune, and the man is witty and wise. Kass is my writing inspiration.

The subject line read: “Help me, I’m a terrible writer!”

Suffice to say, this wasn’t just any ordinary email from crazed fan to famed columnist. It was a plea for advice, for a shovel to dig myself out of my journalistic rut, for words of encouragement. He responded just a few hours later with the email address of a woman named Angie Leventis.

Well, if Kass thought that this Angie woman would be able to guide me, then I decided that she must be a helpful source.

And oh, she was.

When she called me a few days later and identified herself as Kass’ right-hand researcher, I dove straight into my long list of questions: How did Kass get his job? Why is news writing so boring? Do I have to do it? Why has my writing grown dull? What internships do I need to succeed in the industry? Aren’t newspapers dying? What am I going to do with my life?

My questions could’ve continued, but Angie stopped me: “Melanie, you can’t pick a job and set your heart on it. John didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be a Page 2 columnist when I grow up!’ That doesn’t happen. He started at the bottom — the very bottom — and worked his way up until he discovered something that he loved.”

For a moment, I was quiet. The idea of entering the working world at a low-level writing job makes me want to run — no, sprint — from the College of Media and find solace in supply chain management, a major with an astonishingly high job placement rate.

I have big dreams and big goals for my future; how could I possibly succumb to being a lowly reporter, swimming around a giant newsroom of barking editors and looming deadlines?

“But I don’t see myself as being that kind of writer,” I said. “I want to write columns, not news stories. I like the freedom. The creativity.”

“You’ve gotta try it all and incorporate aspects of news writing into your Daily Illini column,” she said. “John’s column typically includes his own opinion, but it’s more about conversation and community. What’s everyone else saying and thinking about a certain topic? Be a voice for the people. Now that’s journalism.”

Our conversation lasted a few minutes longer, but it was then that I suddenly started to feel that familiar surge of determination. This little column could be a stepping-stone to discovering who I am as a journalist.

I want to dive into different topics. Find what is relevant. Interview with intention. Create conversation. And, of course, always pursue truth.

This year, I’m coming back to the DI inspired.

Here’s to sophomore year and a fresh approach to this column. Thank you, Angie.

Melanie is a sophomore in media. She can be reached at [email protected]