Friday, January 16, 2009

Knoxville Brings Memories of What Was My Personal Life

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- As we begin the second day of the Intercollegiate Online News Network (ICONN) Founders Conference, it's as good a time as any to depart from the professional and share some personal thoughts about this city and what it means to me to be part of something new in a place with so many personal memories.

I realized yesterday as I was driving up I-75 from Chattanooga how familiar the road signs and exits were to me. That's because I actually had driven this stretch of interstate so many times in another life.

You see there was a certain female to whom I had taken a great liking and who lived in this city back in mid 1990s when I was working as a television news producer at WXIA-TV, NBC's Atlanta affiliate.

She was a friend from college with whom I had worked so closely and connected so well, I just knew that this was a person who would always be in my life. I consider(ed) her my best friend.

Sidebar: When we teach blogging in our journalism courses, one of the things we have to help our students understand is the opportunity that blogs can play for less formal writing that extends, expands and even personalizes a story.

This posting "personalizes" my whole experience here at ICONN

This was the campus where my friend and I used to hang out. She lived only a mile away from the UT-Knoxville campus. She worked part-time at one of the local hospitals and took classes at both Roane State and Pellissippi State Technical Community College.

I remember driving about 30 miles west of here to surprise her at her graduation from Pellissippi State Technical Community College. I remember driving up from Atlanta on Valentine's Day with a surprise care basket one year. I even remember taking a memorable shopping trip with her out to Sevierville, Tenn. (She worked for a short time in Sevier County, just east of Knoxville).

On the UT-Knoxville campus, she and I would go to the Health Sciences Library and hang out. She would study while I would read periodicals. But, at the time, I had begun to ponder the idea of graduate school.

I had even visited the NBC affiliate here, WBIR-TV, wondering about the opportunities in this television market, which was much smaller than either Atlanta or Cincinnati, the city in which I worked before moving to WXIA.

I attended my first academic conference here on the UT-Knoxville campus as UT hosted what's now known as the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium. (AEJMC stands for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication)

I watched research presentations at the conference at the Knoxville Hilton wondering if I could actually do that one day. (Of course, I eventually did do it lots of times as I worked on a master's and Ph.D. degrees)

Years later-- in this century -- the woman, who I identified as my best friend, married someone else in this town. To this day, I have not met face-to-face with the groom.

She invited me to the wedding. Ironically (or maybe not), I was in Chicago presenting a paper at an academic conference the same weekend.

Some have suggested that I intentionally missed this turning point in my best friend's life.

Perhaps this trip back to Knoxville, the place that holds so many memories, is not only about being a part of something new for my students learning Web journalism, but also about coming to terms with something old that happened in my own life.

As I reflect today, I bring "closure" (that's become a bit of a cliche) to what was and look to open what WILL BECOME in both my personal life and in my work with students in journalism via ICONN.

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