By Angie Fenton
The full-time Extol Team means business. From left to right: Creative Content Developer Christian Watson, Director of Advertising & Sales Jason Applegate, Editor in Chief Angie Fenton, Creative Director Adam Kleinert and Director of Video Production Scott Neumann.
I landed my dream job as The Buzz columnist and features writer for The Courier-Journal in the spring of 2005. I still recall leaving the office of then-Features Editor Greg Johnson, who told me I was hired, feeling as if I were floating on the walk back to my car. I’d earned my bachelor’s and master’s in English at Central Michigan University, where I’d also spent a year immersed in academia working as a full-time adjunct instructor before moving to Louisville. I had numerous freelance writing projects under my belt and spent a year and a half as a staff writer for a young adult publication, but this job was different. I was about to embark on a career.
The drive from Sixth and Broadway downtown Louisville to my east end home was an easy route, but that day I traveled more than interstates.
I wiped away tears of joy from my cheeks as I tried to focus on the road, grateful for what I knew was a life-changing opportunity. But just as I prepared to pull off at my exit, I felt something else begin to creep in: fear and trepidation. While I had done my darndest to convince those in charge I was the right person for the job, what if I was wrong and out of my league? After all, I was newly divorced, in the midst of moving to a renovated shotgun I’d purchased in the Highlands, didn’t have any family located close enough to lean on and, now had serious doubts as to whether I could fulfill my new professional obligations.
In the garage of what would soon no longer be my house, I turned the car off and sank back into my seat. Who was I to have thought I could pull this off? How was I going to keep up with the daily grind of writing an entertainment column six days a week and meeting article deadlines for Kentucky’s largest newspaper? And, while I looked forward to delving into the challenge of writing features and stories about the community, The Buzz column had previously been a daily dose of fluff and stuff mostly pertaining to celebrities and other news and nonsense. I had known that from the get-go but now worried penning such silly fodder day in and day out would be unfulfilling and meaningless, especially to readers.
That night, I allowed myself to wallow in my anxiety-laden pity party for one. But in the morning, I awoke with a new resolve: I would count my blessings – I had a new job, a new house and lots of exciting unknowns – and work hard to find purpose in my new position.
I quickly learned most people read The Buzz because it gave them a reprieve from the real world, which helped add meaning to what I was doing. After my editor allowed me to use some of the space to highlight local charities that benefited causes and people in need, I began to field requests to assist nonprofits by emceeing or facilitating their events, which also led to invitations to speak to civic groups and schools about a variety of subjects, including the importance of lifting others when they need a hand, a lesson my mother had instilled in me as a child. And, as I got to know local leaders and the myriad needs in the community, sometimes I was lucky enough to act as a connector and utilize my own resources to give a helping hand. Making a difference mattered.
I jumped into my career headfirst and always said “yes,” no matter the scope opportunity. This included accepting assignments that made me uncomfortable and appearing on national television, even though I’d had zero TV training and was terrified, which ultimately led to what has been a 7-year weekday morning reporter role on WHAS11’s “Great Day Live!”
I also made mistakes. A lot of them. Like the numerous occurrences when I misspelled someone’s name or printed a wrong phone number or address. And the time I wrote the incorrect version of the word “their” (or was it “your”?) in a quote of the day and received no less than 20 phone calls from readers who were eager to point out what they perceived as my contribution to the “dumbing down of our youth” (yes, someone left those exact words on my voicemail). The newspaper and I even received a threatening letter from the legal team of a once-popular TV star because I rehashed an erroneous news item pertaining to her that’d I’d (thankfully) attributed to a national media outlet, which ended up getting sued (we didn’t, luckily).
Sometimes, I’d receive attacks on my intelligence from people who thought my column was a waste of space and, thanks to my tiny photo that was included with each column, I received a few racist missives and insults about my appearance, too. This was in the pre-Facebook and Twitter days, so most criticism came via snail mail, voicemail, email and shouted at me on the phone.
The personal attacks didn’t affect me much – what was I supposed to say to someone who loathes what my face looks like or the color of my skin? – but it took a while to learn how to accept criticism from strangers, especially when it was harshly given. Eventually, I made it a point to respond to almost anyone who sent feedback and would thank them for taking the time to reach out to me, a practice I still employ. I’d own up to and correct my errors when possible, vowing to better next time. People just wanted to be heard, I realized, and often our communication would lead to story ideas, news tips and even lasting relationships.
Embracing my mistakes also aided me in being more careful and cautious about what I was writing and whom it might affect. It also helped me give myself a break. While I continually strived to do better and be better, I began to fully accept the fallibility of being human.
Thanks to the editors I encountered during the five years I worked at The C-J, I gleaned a lot about management styles and the powerful byproduct of being treated with respect and kindness while simultaneously challenged to grow. (The aforementioned Greg Johnson, a fellow Hoosier, was a boss unlike any other. I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me a shot and helping me find my voice and purpose.)
I did a horrendous job, however, of balancing my personal and professional lives, opting to put work first in lieu of cultivating close friendships and taking time for my out-of-state family members. But that was then, and I’ve since acquired a fierce protectiveness of taking the time to walk away from what I do for a living and focus on those I love. And, I do my best to ensure those on the Extol Team do the same.
There are some people who believe if you love what you do for a living you’ll never work a day in your life. I understand the sentiment but that’s not exactly how I see it. I love what I do for a living, especially it’s ever-changing nature, and my role as co-founder, co-owner and editor in chief of Extol, where I’m a part of phenomenally talented team of full-time and freelance staffers who have joined me in our quest to celebrate Southern Indiana. But we work hard to be a magazine on a mission – and more. In the coming months, you’ll see our commitment to the Southern Indiana grow in myriad ways. We mean business and are excited about what comes next.
In this, The Business Issue, you’ll find industry leaders who share their advice, tips to help ensure your success and much more.
As always, thank you for taking the time to pick up Extol.