Earlier this month, Hugh Willett, editor of the Roane County News, received an email from a young journalism student — not quite out of school — named Reagan England.
"I would like to apply for the Roane County Newspaper," she wrote.
Reagan's cover letter was tight; she included two writing samples — a piece on Valentine's Day and a short investigation into the future of county fairs — with a generous offer: Don't pay me. Just give me experience.
That caught Willett's eye.
"This is what it takes," Willett, a newsroom veteran, thought to himself. "Ambition. Motivation. Fire in the belly."
So, Willett emailed back: Reagan, let's talk.
Later that day, Willett gets a call.
Not from Reagan.
But from Reagan's mom.
"Umm," she began, "do you know how old she is?"
Earlier this month, Reagan England — the ambitious, motivated, fire-in-the-belly-reporter — had borrowed her dad's phone on the way to a birthday party at the Cheesecake Factory. In the car, she Googled "Roane County News", filled out the online job application and clicked "submit."
She wants to be a reporter.
She's in the fifth grade.
"I really like reading and writing," she said. (Oh, how I love this kid.)
Reagan and her family live in Chattanooga. Her dad, Zack, reads newspapers the old-school way: in print. One section at a time, he'll scatter them around the house, like some First Amendment-meets-Hansel and Gretel experience for their children.
"He leaves trails all along the house," said Megan England, Reagan's mom. "They have just subconsciously seen newspapers lying around their whole lives."
A year ago, the Englands were at their lake house in Roane County.
"I was reading the newspaper," she said. (Love. This. Kid.)
She spied a column from a local woman about her garden.
Hmm, Reagan thought.
The idea, like good seed, needed watering. Reagan's teacher at Brainerd Baptist — take a bow, Ms. Cole — encouraged her to write, write, write.
Earlier this month, she wrote an imaginary news story. Then, another. That afternoon, Zack picked her up for the cheesecake party.
"Dad," Reagan asked, "does Roane County have a newspaper?"
"Sure," said Zack, driving.
"Can anybody write for it?"
"Umm, I guess."
A few moments pass.
Then, Reagan did what any good reporter would do.
Well, first, she had to get a phone.
"Used my dad's," she said.
Then, she did what any good reporter would do.
She did the brave, gutsy thing.
"The most important thing is ambition," Willett said. "In this business, that is how you get started. Having the guts to try."
So, Willett fires off his email: Reagan, come interview.
But, it goes to Zack's inbox. Reagan had used his phone ... and his email.
Next day, Zack calls home: Honey, did you know Reagan applied for the Roane County News?
"We really are good parents," Megan laughed. "It just doesn't sound like it."
On Wednesday, the Roane County News published Reagan's stories.
"Journalism's been getting beaten down," Willett said. "I'm glad there are some kids that still want to go into it."
Let's say we give her a helping hand.
Reagan, today, you're getting published. Again.
Chattanooga, here's her very first column, "Why I Love to Write." Steal the show, kid.
Since I can remember, I've always loved to read.
Most people read the news online or watch on tv, but I love the feel of a book and the texture of a newspaper. Maybe it's because I've spent my whole life tripping over newspapers my dad has left on the floor!
I've always thought it would be so cool to see my name in print. I really admire people who write.
It fascinates me how people can take all the words in the English language and make them into a story. I think it takes such creativity to write a good story.
People who write are so brave; they publish their work for the world to see.
I believe writing stories for future generations is such a great way for the world to see why we need writing. When I get discouraged writing a story, I like to see what other authors have written.
Seeing how much creativity and courage they have helps to inspire me, and I hope to inspire others one day!
You will, Reagan. You already have. Journalism, no matter how bruised, will always thrive as long as people like you — lionhearted, hustling, inquisitive — keep writing.
Just ask Willett.
"Who knows," the veteran editor said. "We could hire her here one day."
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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