In absolutely no way did I deserve my first job in journalism, or even my first (and only) internship. I was still in college – a rising junior at the University of Central Florida, the beneficiary of one, maybe two J-school classes – when I applied for and, likely owing to a lack of competition among my more career-minded peers – landed an internship at the Weekly under the tutelage of then-news editor Ed Ericson Jr. This, despite the fact that I knew shit about writing, shit about reporting, shit about records searches or interviewing techniques, shit about the shopworn alt-weekly ethos. I could barely fucking type.
And so I showed up on day one – in a tie and khakis, an alt-weekly sin for which Ed, who favored shorts and Bermuda shirts, promptly reprimanded me – and was immediately thrown into the deep end.
Ed had this story that had been sitting on his desk about a billionaire time-share mogul named David Siegel (the same David Siegel of Queen of Versailles fame) who had (allegedly) gotten his start in that classic Florida way, the swampland scam. Ed knew it was a good story, but it needed legwork, and I was the legs. So for the next three months, I found myself poring through records in dusty government offices all over Central Florida (this is pre-digitization, mind), driving to South Florida with Ed to harangue a guy who wouldn't return our calls (I was rewarded with a bottle of rum), corresponding by snail mail with sources in Europe, meeting for hours with our unexpectedly effusive subject, and, several months after my internship ended, having Ed be gracious enough to slap my co-byline on his writing. (The story, by the way, was called "Outrageous Fortune." It won some awards.)
Around then, Ed announced that he was leaving – to Hartford, I think, or some other godforsaken snow globe of a place. And I, being just naive enough to do this, sent an email to the editor, Jeff Truesdell, asking if I could have Ed's job. I'm sure he had a good chuckle.
Jeff did hire me, though, a couple of months later, as a part-time editorial assistant, $10 an hour. Then, after I graduated, he hired me for a real job, staff writer – still only $10 an hour or thereabouts, but full-time nonetheless. And for the next seven years, that's what I did: I wrote about Orlando, about Glenda Hood and Buddy Dyer and Rich Crotty and Daisy Lynum and Ric Keller, first under Jeff and later under Bob Whitby, both of whom – like Ed – taught me far more about this profession than I could ever learn in a classroom. I learned how to develop sources and dig through court records, how to think critically and write with verve. I discovered the intrinsic power of a 5,000-word narrative about police abuse or corporate malfeasance or transportation policy or impermeably dense zoning issues. I incurred the wrath of politicians and those rat bastards at the MBI. I forged friendships that I still hold very dear, even years and a thousand miles apart.
More than anything, during my years at the Weekly I came to understand how essential an alt-weekly is to a maturing city, both in its watchdog role at City Hall and its cultural coverage. No matter where I've gone in my career – Orlando to Philly to Orlando to Jacksonville and now to Raleigh-Durham, where I edit another alt-weekly – I've found this to be true: Great cities need great alt-weeklies. I'd like to think that this publication had something to do with making Orlando as great as it is today.