Martiga Lohn, a former newswoman for the Associated Press who works for the state Department of Human Services, wrote the following for SPJ’s ongoing Tell us Your Story series, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.
For more than 20 years, I gave journalism everything I could.
But when I had a child and needed journalism to give me some flexibility back, it just wasn’t going to happen. Not in that job, not at that time.
While leaving journalism wasn’t an easy decision, it was the right move for me and my family. I wouldn’t trade the extra time with my daughter for any number of bylines.
It’s already been more than four years since I left. Everything I learned in journalism along the way helped lead me where I am today. I have a meaningful job with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where I help people work with reporters and offer insight into how the media works. My skills are respected and valued, and my work-life balance is much more balanced these days.
I started working as a reporter when I was still in high school, covering my school’s sports teams and writing features for my hometown weekly. They taught me to typeset and drafted me to stuff circulars into the printed papers, sending me home with inky hands.
Years later, when I went to work for a daily newspaper, I would wake up and run downstairs to get my paper every morning — so thrilled to see my work and the work of my fellow reporters in print.
Journalism took me to a lot of places, from earnings news conferences for pharmaceutical companies in Germany to the press corps campouts outside end-of-session negotiations at the Minnesota Capitol (or sometimes at the Governor’s residence or State Office Building). I got to write about presidents and artists, bus drivers and mechanics, voters and visionaries.
What really sticks with me now are the times I had to go out and talk to “regular people” — outside grocery stores, inside restaurants and bars and American Legions, at protests on the streets. Approaching people with an open notebook never came to me naturally, but I appreciate now even more how necessary it was. The news needs their voices.
There aren’t many jobs that challenge you to get out of your comfort zone by walking up to strangers and asking them to share deeply held opinions and feelings. Looking back, it’s moving to me that so many people were generous with their time and willing to be quoted in my stories.
And then suddenly one day, I was on the other side of the equation. I was surprised when a reporter approached me.
It was the middle of the day during the week in downtown Minneapolis, about a year ago. I had just gotten my preschool-age daughter out of the car and was plugging the meter before we headed inside to a music class. A white SUV with a TV station logo pulled over across the street. A reporter jumped out and bounded over to us. He asked for an interview about something to do with one of the stadiums. It happened so fast I didn’t fully register what he wanted to talk about.
Even though I’m not a reporter anymore, I have yet to unlearn all the rules of journalism. Reporters can’t use other reporters as sources, so I would never have agreed to be a “regular person” for another reporter while I was a reporter. It felt so odd to be asked. I also felt camera-shy, and caught up in the throes of trying to get my preschooler somewhere on time. So I said no, and he went on his way.
I guess I’m still coming to terms with myself as a former member of the profession.
Martiga Lohn worked as a reporter for the AP, Bloomberg News, the Duluth News Tribune and several non-daily newspapers.
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