Independent Media Held the Door Open For My Writing Career

2018-09-18 16.06.25

I used to have these very specific ideas about what type of journalism job I’d have after college.

I’d cover local sports at a small newspaper, writing previews and gamers and honing my skills before getting called up to the big leagues at, I dunno, some newsroom with a classic big city paper nickname like The Times or The Sentinel. That’s where I’d get all the premium gigs that come with dedicating years to one team: All-Star games, finals series, league drafts. Players and coaches would love/hate/respect my work and invite me out to dinner and we’d kick it with our families and I’d almost be like one of the team.

If that didn’t work out, then I’d take my hard-fought years of reporting to an alt-weekly. I could take up 1,000 words of space ranting about neighborhood sidewalks or city hall stiffs that no one knows about unless I tell them. Plenty of white men hold that space. I wanted to be the black woman in the mix.

I graduated college, but by then the industry was changing fast. Layoffs, falling revenue and buyouts gutted newsrooms across the country, and a huge hunk of my dreams along with it. I got a four-hour-a-week sports clerk gig at The Dallas Morning News, taking down the scores of high school football games from guys who could barely understand everything in a box score, let alone write coherent sentences with them. Those dudes got to write sports in their spare time between their other careers, but I wanted sportswriting to be my only career. My bank account said I needed to do something, so I went to work at a bookstore. 

Still, I clung to freelance writing for a bit but threw the bulk of my energy into poetry and processing my own human condition. I let that journey carry me for years. Deep down I wanted to keep writing and reporting, but it just wasn’t coming together how I’d hoped. Through all my years as a journalist, no one ever told me that – truly – I was free to dream up the type of career that I wanted. Yea, it sounds like something you shouldn’t have to be told, but if I’d heard it, it would have given me permission to open my world to the possibilities.

Ten years later, I’ve done things with my work that I didn’t think possible. I’ve interviewed Janelle Monae. I learned to share my love of graphic novels. I’ve got contacts with so many folks across the country that I can’t research a story without saying ‘I know that face!’

Independent media gave me that. The confidence to believe in my talent. The freedom to write about what keeps me going and alive. A space to bring my whole self and voice, and platforms that celebrate me for my sarcasm, brashness, tenderness and history. 

Independent media is the future of digital media, if only because it’s manned by the people, who are passionate about journalism as an ethical standard and not a vehicle for corporate capitalism. We’re sparking the conversations that push our nation and culture forward. We’re digging into the root causes of inequality and arming people with the information they need to fight back, resist, succeed. We’ve told the gatekeepers that we are the key, and we’ve flung open the doors for others. And as long as we’re here, we’ll hold the door open for anyone that wants to come through.

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Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas. She's released a CD of poetry entitled Not A Storybook <3 and a chapbook named faith move muscle. She's currently writing her first fiction novel. She can be reached at princess.mcdowell@gmail.com