On long drives and long stories

Three weeks ago Friday, I graduated from Virginia Tech. Two weeks ago Friday, I pulled out of Richmond, Va., with my dad and drove — over the course of two days and several plates of barbeque — to Springfield, Mo.

Relatively early in the drive, somewhere near Charleston, West Virginia to be exact, we entered new territory for me. While I’ve traveled the Atlantic coast pretty thoroughly, and made stops across the southern US, the land west of the mountains where I was born and then attended college was completely foreign. Also, completely flat. But more importantly, new and unknown. Since our exploration time was fairly limited, my dad and I decided to make two stops along the way: Louisville and St. Louis. We stayed the night in Louisville, getting dinner on Whiskey Row and taking a whirl around the city via car to see Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger factory and the riverfront. The next day, we took a pit stop in St. Louis to catch our collective first glimpse at the Gateway Arch and have barbeque at renowned smokehouse, Pappy’s. That same day, we arrived in Springfield, metro population 436,000, and I joined the Stry.Us team.

This past Friday, two weeks after arrival, I finished my first story for the longform storytelling project. The story, which was published Saturday, examines the forces that have fueled a prolonged, fierce debate over a smoking ban in this city. But more importantly, the story was the first of my “career.” I came to Stry.us because it offered the opportunity to explore not just a previously unseen part of the country, but a seemingly distant type of writing and reporting. It isn’t distant in a sense of being unreachable — it is quite easy to read the genre by following one of the ever-popular longreads accounts or hashtags on Twitter. But to a young writer leaving college (having never done much work outside of the newspaper industry), getting paid to do this type of writing seemed to be a goal for the distant future. The chance to prove myself in the longform arena immediately — and also work for a futuristic, forward-thinking journalism experiment — was the engine that drove me to southwest Missouri.

And, hopefully, my work will add a new layer of experience into my writing abilities and my resume as I begin what will still be a long, educational road of writing as a professional journalist. But in this industry, needing a combination of innovation and classic writing skill, the long road to Missouri seemed to be the most promising.

To follow both my work and the work of my talented co-workers, you can:

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