Eight years ago today I walked in to a newsroom for the first time with the "I-can't-believe-it's-my-job" assignment of finding stories to tell.
I was 30 years old with a bad hair cut and an ill-fitting thrift store suit. The staff was chronically stressed, a few years younger and even though it was my first day, some were less experienced.
It was great. Really.
This job opportunity came with a pay cut and a move away from everything and everyone I knew. My "big break" was waiting in a small Cajun town where a pronunciation test was part of the job ("Richard" and "Vincent" are not what you think!)
I unloaded all of my belongings. Everything fit in my four-door car, and coincidentally it was just about all my $350 a month rental house could hold. The bathroom had the same type of shower you would find on a boat (not the fancy kind).
I was thrilled. Really.
My first day at work I already knew this was a newsroom where you'd need to swim fast or get eaten by the sharks. If you swam, those sharks would turn out to be loyal friends.
Every night we all watched the same sports game that was the 6 o'clock news: Us versus Them.
It was riveting. Really.
Towns with only two news stations are the most cutthroat. We did more than fight to be number one. My colleagues and I craved that rush from breaking Southern Louisiana stories. We relied on it as much as we did breakfast, oxygen and celebratory (or commiserating) drinks after the show. In the process we became best friends.
It was all you dream of from your first job reporting.
It didn't take that long to get recognized from TV. I'll never forget the woman who said,"Mr. Campbell I want to shake your hand. You drank that dirty water on TV, and the next day the city fixed the treatment plant."
It felt like we were changing the world, and to be fair we were in a way - the way that you can only do in close-knit communities.
I moved on to a bigger station and to another a couple years after that, then to Atlanta three years after that. With each move I've felt farther away from that feeling of changing the world.
I don't blame the setting.
I've been lucky to work for the best stations in each market, the "good guys" of each DMA.
I don't blame the viewers either.
I chalk up the difference to life, technology and the way we consume media.
Smaller cities have fewer news outlets, and in a way a greater sense of community. That's because an entire town is its own neighborhood.
A city the size of Atlanta is much too large for someone in Dunwoody to become passionate about every little thing that happens in Duluth.
However at 11Alive we work hard to find the common ground. We work hard to tell stories in a way that will be interesting no matter where you live. And we work hard to listen, because that's what good journalism is all about.
Listening is also at the heart of a new way we'll cover news beginning next week.
We want to start a revolution... for you. The movement is called "Raise Your Voice," and it truly turns over the keys of our newsroom to the viewers who write, call, speak out and ask the station to help. We could get involved in anything that makes the Atlanta community a better place.
If there's dirty water and drinking it on TV will lead to a fix, I'll do it. Really.
We're starting by taking on Atlanta traffic. Here's the explanation.
11Alive Raise Your Voice from Jeremy Campbell on Vimeo.
After eight years of reporting I've felt the highs and lows, from the White House to Uganda, from launch pads and crime scenes.
If I had to start over in that small Louisiana news room with a bad hair cut and thrift store suit... I would.
Nothing beat that feeling of changing the world one problem at a time. We're ready to do our best, if you simply "Raise Your Voice."
Submit your story idea here.
Jeremy Campbell is an ATLien, storyteller, traveler... & often all three at once.