I will graduate from Drake University for the second time Saturday afternoon.
The first time came at age 21 in 1997. I earned a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial journalism with a minor in English.
I thought I was done with school 25 years ago.
After that, I planned on getting a job at the local newspaper and writing until I retired.
That plan worked, but not quite long enough for me to retire.
Two years ago, I got laid off from the local newspaper. I tried other types of journalism. I was terrible at them.
I quickly learned that the thing I did best — tell stories — was not as useful as it used to be.
The world changed fast in 25 years since my first graduation.
The internet was still new, and you needed a landline and a disc from AOL to get online.
I blinked and everybody had high-speed internet from the cable or phone company.
Making mixed tapes slowly turned into mixed CDs, which were far less romantic.
I blinked and the iPod put thousands of songs in your pocket.
I blinked again and Apple announced they’ll stop making the iPod.
Mobile phones were clunky things with short batteries for rich people.
I blinked and the iPhone put the internet in their pocket — and connecting to a network with an ever-increasing number of “G’s.”
This made it easy for people to stream music, movies, live TV, and, for some reason, lots of videos of cats in the palm of their hand always.
I blinked again and the iPod was gone. Nobody bought songs anymore. They streamed them on their phones, which connected seamlessly to their stereos, wireless speakers, and vehicle sound systems.
Twenty-five years ago, newspapers were still viable and thriving. Classified advertising revenue flowed in. People would always need a way to sell their old car or that ratty leather couch in the basement.
I blinked and then there were free online classified where people gave their old junk away and newspapers started the slow process of dying.
Why buy a newspaper?
You can stream all the news you want with the swipe of your finger.
Free is better than pay, and the ethos of the internet has always been free when it comes to content.
So here I am, 25 years later graduating from college again.
I’ve earned a master’s degree in secondary education with endorsements in 5-12 English language arts and journalism.
I plan to teach. I’ve got applications out for every job that I’m qualified for in the metro.
I’ve had one interview. I’ve got another scheduled. Hopefully, something comes together soon.
It’s only been two years since I was a full-time reporter, but it feels like much longer.
I think I was good at my job, but I wasn’t good at it the way you need to be good at it today.
The modern reporter needs to be concerned with what stories the data shows people want to read, knowing how to use certain words to draw optimal search engine traffic.
Whenever possible, go viral with a story that’s adorable or tragic, that makes people angry or coo like they do at the sight of a kitten playing with a wand toy.
I tried to be that kind of reporter, but I just couldn’t make those metrics numbers light up the way stories about football and sick and dying people do.
I’m not alone. Tens of thousands of journalists lost their jobs in the last decade — people in the middle of their careers, just like me, took it the hardest.
Two years has been long enough, though, that I don’t miss it.
The only thing that makes me truly sad is that I’ll never make a living off my writing again.
All I just wanted to be a writer. I know I’ll always be one, but it somehow feels more official when you’re getting paid.
I blinked and I couldn’t be a writer anymore.
So, I started graduate school and decided to become a teacher.
Interviewers always ask why I chose to become a teacher.
The most important people in my life are Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died.
After that, the most important people in my life have always been teachers.
Carol Liechty, my fourth and seventh grade teacher in Winterset, pushed writing until I finally got into it.
Chris Madison, my first journalism teacher, saw my knack for stacking paragraphs before I did.
Ed Kelly, the East journalism teacher, let me run wild in the pages of the school newspaper.
Robert D. Woodward, that legendary Drake professor, nudged me to the straight and narrow even when I wanted to careen into the ravine.
I choose to teach because it’s like that Bob Dylan song: “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”
I would rather serve students and the future for the second half of my working life.
Now I must find the place where I can start doing it.
I’m excited to get started. Time moves so fast.
Who knows what I’ll see the next time I blink?
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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