One morning in the middle of September, I found myself at a breaking point and easily coming to tears. Having been out of work for so long and having been looking for work for even longer without much traction, I turned to my wife and said something like, “I just can’t take this anymore.” I had to openly admit I was legitimately depressed for the first time in a long time.
As she usually does, she turned my complaint into a productive conversation. She ultimately helped me see that I needed an outlet and, given she and I both know the only thing I really love doing is writing for Todd Flora’s America, the epiphany struck. Within days – and just hours ahead of fall classes – I was enrolled in the Journalism Certificate Program through UCLA Extension. The UC system works in quarters, so this fall I’m taking “Reporting and Writing 1: The Fundamentals of Journalism” and recently completed the seven-week intensive course “Media Law and Ethics.” Both courses are two of the four required courses, with the remaining four to earn the certificate being electives. If I stick with it, take one or two courses a quarter and complete the program, I might even consider a career change if any news outlets would consider a (by then) nearly 51-year old white guy.
Our Reporting and Writing Fundamentals course is taught by Jeff Wald, who, among other things, was the News Director at local L.A. Station KTLA not once, but twice for about 10 years each. He took KTLA to #1 in news during each stint, which is a huge deal in L.A’s massive Five County market of around 17 million people. He has earned 13 Emmys and 23 Golden Mic Awards and was named Journalists of the Year by the L.A. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s pretty clear UCLA Extension doesn’t hire any slouches! I really enjoy the course but am struggling a bit adjusting to the kind of writing required of a journalist v. the colloquial style I can get away with here on the blog.
Media Law and Ethics was taught by an attorney, Loralee Sundra, who works with entertainment companies in a variety of ways, but I sense it is largely on things like defamation suits. This made her a perfect fit for a class that felt like what I imagine law school feels like. Each week we were buried in first amendment case law, but it was absolutely fascinating and worth the seemingly endless reading to learn what I did about how the first amendment affects journalists and the principles of journalistic ethics.
My classmates are a diverse mix of terrific people, some already working in journalism and others like me at a crossroads due to unemployment or just a change in or temporary hold on their career. Some are very young and recently received their undergraduate degrees. A few have seen or lived through some very hard things overseas. I’m definitely among the 3-4 oldest class members, which doesn’t really matter because I LOOK so young and am really, really, really, really, really good looking.
Probably the funniest exchange in the last two months came when Erin – who works right beside me on our new “double desk” now by day – witnessed me in classic neurotic student mode, fretting about a quiz and worried I may not earn an A. When I vocalized this concern to Erin, expecting the usual calming touch, I was instead met with a burst of laughter. She thought it hilarious that I would care about my class grades in the program. A little surprised, I sort of said, “What? OF COURSE I’m going to try to get As!” which prompted yet more laughter…. And then it hit me – my wife, who has known me for almost 20 years, has never witnessed “student Todd,” the neurotic worry wart that always asks too many questions in class, carries massive test anxiety, and worries about grades because of a philosophy I adopted as a young student that goes like this: If I earn an A in AP Government, I’ll be an “A person” IN government. If I earn an A in English, I’ll actually speak and write A-level English. If I earn an A in AP History, I won’t make as many mistakes IN politics. You get the idea. It’s a philosophy that can make sense, but it does put a lot of pressure on a guy. So, as you can imagine, my “C” on my recent Reporting and Writing Fundamentals mid-term had me feeling very low about being a “C” journalist.
At the time of this writing, there are only 2 more instructional weeks of class, and then our Reporting and Writing Fundamentals final exam on December 16. From there, only a couple weeks holiday hiatus before starting “Reporting and Writing II: Journalism in Practice.” And away we go!