Back in mid-August I wrote about getting an assignment at the newspaper to do a six-part series on the economy. It was an absolutely terrifying assignment because I know nothing – NOTHING! – about economics.
After stewing in my own juices for a few days, I finally realized that maybe I didn’t have to do it all on my own. I reached out to an economics professor and asked for some help. He responded. The truth is that I understood very little of what he said, but it got me started.
Then I reached out to Mathew Barewicz at the Vermont Department of Labor and asked if he would speak on the record for the first story. He turned out to be a fountain of information … and I understood what he was talking about (most of the time). He was willing to slow down and explain things … the unspoken requirement, of course, being that I had to risk feeling stupid by speaking up when I didn’t understand something. And the blessing was that he never once made me feel stupid for asking.
Mat became my angel in disguise. In addition to answering my direct questions, he just talked to me about the subject so I’d have a broader context. When I ran into a brick wall this week and needed a reality check, I knew he could help. Over the past six weeks, he’s spent several hours on the phone with me. And through it all he somehow made me feel like I was doing him a favor. Thank you Mat. This series wouldn’t have happened nearly so elegantly without you.
Early on in the process I made a decision to write the stories the way that I write. I would focus on the human interest angle rather than the numbers. I figured if the editors had wanted a straight economics piece, they could have asked someone who understands economics to write it. I understand people, so I wrote about people. Never once did my editor make a peep about the direction the articles took. In fact, he seemed quite pleased with them. Finding the cajones to make that unilateral decision so that I could move forward was a major miracle.
So here we are…six weeks later. This behemoth that loomed over me six weeks ago is now just two days away from being in my rear view mirror. I’m not quite sure how it all came together. But I know one thing – it happened one deadline at a time. And now it’s almost done. And I survived. And I’m actually a bit more educated because of it.