Last night I went to a professional women’s networking event sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation. Local TV reporter Rachel Barnhart was the guest speaker. A young journalist with great passion and conviction, she spoke of her struggles early in her career and how proud she is to be working and covering news in the town in which she was born and raised.
Here are some things I loved learning about this homegrown reporter:
- She stands by her convictions. In high school, she was suspended because she refused to stop publishing her own underground newspaper.
- After sending in her first demo tape to land a broadcasting job, a veteran in the broadcasting business “ripped her to shreds” in an interview. Instead of getting discouraged, she was thankful for the helpful criticsm, took all suggestions into consideration and moved on.
- Later in her career, she fought a non-compete clause in her contract at Channel 8 and then landed a job at WHAM, where after a year working as a web producer, she paid her dues and was back on the air for the 6 pm newscast.
- She was the first local reporter from upstate New York to scoop the story that then-Rochester mayor would run as Lieutenant Governor with Andrew Cuomo. She picked herself and a camera crew and drove through the night to be at a press conference in the NY Metro area to be the first in the Rochester area to get the story – all on a hunch.
- Even though there are bigger media markets out there, Rachel is proud to be covering her hometown because she passionately believes in its revitalization, thank you very much!
- It is with this faith in Rochester that Rachel has built quite a local following. A journalist of the digital generation, she has harnessed the power of social networking and has 7,000 Twitter followers and counting. Including yours truly.
As a transplant, one thing Ms. Bernhart said ratttled me. On bringing in talent from those who are not from the area, she said that it makes sense for the Rochester media market to hire native Rochesterians. Who better knows the area, its people than those who grew up here? Out of town editors and writers just “don’t get” Rochester.
Perhaps this is true. Rochester is a very tightly-knit town. If you have no relations here that can be traced back one or two generations, you are pretty much an outsider. I’m not the only transplant to Rochester who has felt that it is hard to break into social and professional circles that were forged in grammar school. This is a big contrast from big cities where new people come and go and work their way in all the time. Like they do in my hometown of New York City.
Is it not my fault that I needed to go with my husband to Rochester when he landed a job here? Did we need to go where he could make a living? Where we could have money for food and clothing and to send our kids to a nice summer sleep-away-camp?
True, the initial connection my family has in Rochester is this is the place where my husband found a great job. But, this connection is often not enough for us trailing spouses.
Here is how, after 12 years of living in a town other than my hometown, I know I am almost “home” both geographically and professionally:
- I don’t get lost anymore and know the difference between 390, 590 and 490.
- I’m comfortable telling people I’m “from” Rochester when away on vacation. And when I start to say, “but I’m originally from…” I stop and let it go.
- I have grown to marvel at the clean lines of the Rochester City skyline. Sure, it’s not the New York City skyline, but it has a really cool bridge. And I personally know the civil engineer who designed it.
- My husband is home by six nearly every night. He has a 20 minute, traffic-free commute. In how many cities can you say that?
- When our friends “back home” tell us of their struggles to get their kids into the best private schools, we proudly boast about the great public schools in Rochester’s suburbs.
- I have yet to land a full-time job, but for the last two years, I have been bestowed the opportunity to meet all sorts of great interesting people through my column in the Democrat & Chronicle.
When I accepted writing this column, my editor at the time gave me some great advice: this is the chicken and waffle dinner column. It’s all about community.
This column will never win me the Pulitzer. It in no way matches the ambitions of my 22-year-old self fresh out of college. In fact, most of my journalism professors would raise their eyebrows at the stuff I write about. It’s not hard-hitting journalism. In fact, you can call it fluff, and I’d be cool with that.
However, my writing makes a difference. Greyhounds have been adopted. People have found support as they battle illnesses like cancer, Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease because of events I’ve plugged in my column. Bikes have been donated and refurbished for the poor by local Rotary clubs and donations of food have been dropped off at area food pantries. It’s the good news column in an industry that is mostly filled with bad news.
It doesn’t really pay much monetarily. I get the payback when little old ladies stop me in synagogue or at Starbucks or in the supermarket to say how much they enjoy reading my column.
For me, that’s the time I get the feeling that I am finally home. For me, for now, that’s enough.