It was, quite possibly, the shortest job interview in the history of gainful employment.
It was December of 1996, and I was sitting in my college apartment, ready to graduate in a few days. Not only had I not yet applied for any jobs, I had yet to put together a resume or cover letter for any potential employers to peruse. The sum total of my post-collegiate plans consisted of “moving back in with my parents and taking some time to figure out what I want to do.”
(My parents, I’m sure, were pleased with such my lofty goals).
In any event, it never quite came to that.
The day before I was scheduled to graduate, I got a call from former Troy Daily News executive editor David Lindeman, who informed me he had a position coming open in the TDN sports department.
“What’s your interest level?” he asked me.
“Pretty high,” I said, considering all the other options I had on the table at that point in my life.
“Can you start Tuesday?” he said.
“I’ll see you then,” I replied.
And that was how, 20 years ago on Dec. 16, 1996, I began my full-time career as a sports writer for the publication you currently are reading.
While that may not exactly be a typical hiring practice, it does bear mentioning that I had spent many of my weekends in high school at the TDN, taking phone calls from high school coaches and writing up game summaries for the next day’s paper. In college, I would spend every Christmas, spring and summer break I had writing stories for the newspaper.
So I guess it’s fair to say Mr. Lindeman — despite the lack of a formal interview or application process — had a pretty good idea what he was getting into when he hired me.
I wish I could have said the same.
Sure, I knew all about the sports I would be covering at the newspaper. I could tell you all the facts and figures you needed to know about Miami County’s local teams. I could rattle off the the names of all the greatest athletes the school had produced and all the titles the school had won.
And I knew my fair share about journalism, too. I knew how to write in “inverted pyramid” style, how to crop a photo and how to design a page that would draw in readers.
I figured, at the ripe old age of 23, I had figured out everything I would need to be a successful sports journalist.
Two decades later, that line of thinking is hilarious in its naivete.
For you see, what I didn’t know then, but certainly have learned in the intervening 20 years, is how this job is about so much more than points scored or stories written. All of those are important parts of the job, of course, but ultimately not what matters most.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how life-altering this job would become — not so much because of the games I covered or the stories I produced, but rather the people who played in and coached those games I covered and the people who read those stories I wrote.
Ultimately, this job has been about meeting people, making friends, having my life touched and, hopefully, touching a few lives of my own along the way. Most people think the best part of my job for the past 20 years has been getting paid to watch sporting events. Not even close. The best part of my job has been the opportunity to meet the incredible people who have allowed me to tell their stories.
Some of those stories have made me laugh. More than a few have made me cry. Every single one of them has made me think. I hope some of them have, at various points, made you do the same, loyal readers and true believers.
You know, when I first started here at the newspaper, I figured this would merely be a weigh station as I moved on to “bigger and better” things at a much larger publication. I planned on putting in my time and moving on down the road. I guess I never figured I’d find bigger and better right outside my front door.
I suppose you can’t put a price on the lifelong friendships I’ve made with athletes, coaches, coworkers and readers.
Thank you, everyone, for allowing me to be a part of your lives for the past 20 years. It’s been my honor. I hope you’ll let me continue to do the same for the next 40 years.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong