2014: A Year in Review

From losing my job and creating a new one, to taking in a guide dog puppy in training and preparing to reenter the scholastic world, 2014 was a year of changes.

I was laid off late in 2013 and spent the next year working to reinvent, reestablish and move forward. I freelanced, volunteered, focused on home improvements and education. I even won an award for my reporting.

As a freelance journalist, I am fortunate to get the opportunity to cover local stories that matter for one of the state’s best newspapers and national stories with impact for one of the oldest news services in the country.

Almost immediately after getting laid off, I saw opportunities. I reached out to a former contact at the Associated Press to start freelancing. Soon I was covering national news for one of the most respected news service providers in the industry. I sat in the courtroom just a few feet away from Julie Schenecker when she called a psychiatrist a “liar” in court. She would later be found guilty for killing her children. I met the sister of a victim from the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. His bones were the first identified after exhaustive efforts to find answers for the unknown graves at the former reformatory. I conducted the first interview with a Tampa teen who was beaten by Israeli military during his stay in Gaza.

Living and covering news in the Tampa Bay area for so long also helped freelancing. A former editor at the Tampa Bay Times gave me a shot to write some stories. I got to share families’ love affair with Florida and their spring training baseball traditions, the closing of an iconic surf shop on Clearwater Beach to make room for a craft brewery and a guide dog that was paired with a Marine Corps. veteran.

I got to pitch in on an in-depth story about Tony Bosch and the chic HGH/ steroid scene for the Miami New Times. I covered a story about a quadriplegic girl from England who got to meet Winter the Dolphin for the Times of London, however that story did not run.

I got a gig writing with Visit Florida, the state tourism board. I also started writing for Visit Clearwater, a local blog.

I got to chat for almost an hour with epic comedian Shawn Wayans for Creative Loafing. I also started covering the Tampa area’s emerging technology, entrepreneur and startup community in the new economy for 83 Degrees Media.

While I kept busy freelancing I also received accolades for stories I reported in 2013. I was honored for my reporting about the Chunky Sunday community gatherings in Clearwater as a recipient of a 2014 Griot Drum award by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists.

Writing was not my only focus.

The story of Coastie, is one of the first I got to write freelancing. It was a conclusion to a story I wrote nearly a year earlier about a guide dog puppy in training.

As I wrote the follow up story I was able to reconnect with those involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs. With my background watching friends and family pets, I felt I could offer my skills and learn some along the way. I know I have a long way to go but after spending the last year learning, applying and practicing obedience and commands with Mia, a guide dog puppy in training, I don’t know how people left me with their pets before.

The puppy raising experience has been extremely rewarding.

It was not my only volunteer experience this year. I also went to Academy Prep in St. Petersburg and spoke with middle school students about journalism, writing and reporting. The kids asked thoughtful, funny and interested questions. And they even sent me a thank you card.

Working and spending time from home meant I needed to refresh my space and make due repairs. I rearranged the “news factory,” my office. There was plenty of plumbing repairs including properly rehanging the lavatory sink, repairing water pipes, replacing stops in the bathroom and kitchen and closing a gaping hole in the wall under the sink. I replaced two jalousie windows in the Florida room.

The backyard saw vast improvements. I built a kayak rack after sanding and staining four 4x4s then sunk them in concrete. I used galvanized piping with larger PVC pipes over them to act as a roller for the kayaks to be set on. I found and repurposed broken down wheelbarrows into gardens. I made a corner garden and horseshoe court using beach sand recovered from volleyball courts. With some help I was able to trim the trees around the house as well.

A city project will soon replace the septic system with a sanitary sewer. I also am working to create and establish a neighborhood identity and park for the newly annexed area.

Work, volunteer and get back into school.

I took a writing business plans and getting small business loans classes at St. Pete Greenhouse, a business/entrepreneurial incubator. It helped me identify potential business ideas and start writing plans to establish them.

I applied for an assistantship in the Digital Journalism and Design online master degree program at USFSP. Part of application included taking a digital skills assessment through a Poynter News U test. I scored an 87 and was accepted into the program without the assistantship. The caveat – I need to earn a ‘B’ or better in my first six credit hours. That should not be a problem. I find out Jan. 5 when spring semester starts.

I would like to think I have made a lot out of 2014 and strive for more in 2015.

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