The Wonder Year - Joel Hall

As of last Tuesday, I have officially put in one year of work at the Clayton News Daily. From what people tell me, that's a really long time, but it feels like an instant.

It was fitting that my Tuesday night - just like my first day on the job -- was spent at a Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting that went into the late hours of the night.

In learning how to glean information from those discussions, I was confronted with a learning wall, rather than a learning curve, in the beginning.

Before coming to work for the Clayton News Daily, I had completed several news internships in Atlanta, Ohio, and even South Africa. My most previous newsroom experience, prior to working for this paper, was as an intern for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's National News desk.

I really didn't know how good I had it.

In all my previous jobs, I basically worked as a general assignment reporter. If an editor or a higher-ranking reporter gave me a story to do, that was what I worked on for the day.

While I did generate my own stories, occasionally, there was never the looming fear of having to generate a constant news stream in a particular subject area.

At the AJC, if I had to include some kind of random fact in a story - like the number of slices of American cheese people consume in a year - I could call up the news research department, work on something else for the next two hours, plug the information into my story, and come out looking really smart in the process.

I did my reporting, took an hour-long lunch, wrote my story over the course of two or three hours, and went home by 5 p.m.

Those days went up in a thick mushroom cloud when I arrived in Jonesboro. The days of having stories served on a silver patter were gone. The days of the 100-plus strong news team were gone. The safety bumpers had come down and it was time for me to bowl for real.

I remember sitting at my desk the first week, frustrated with the sheer volume of work that had immediately fallen upon my shoulders.

At most, my only responsibility at the AJC was to produce five stories a week. At a large paper with several floors full of reporters and staff, that's doable, but at a small paper with only three full-time newsroom reporters, it's a luxury no one can afford.

I learned very quickly that "reporter" would be one of my many titles at the Clayton News Daily. On top of having to crank out two or three stories on a daily basis, I also became responsible for a weekly opinion column, maintaining all the church announcements (a full-time clerk position at some papers), occasional man-on-the street interviews, and occasionally reporting for sister publications.

When I look back at what I am able to do now, however, it really amazes me. A year ago, the pressure of having to come up with at least two, new, poignant things to write about every single day, and then having those things scrutinized by the unforgiving masses, was enough to make me nauseous.

While this job is still stressful, now it's stress that I can manage, and I know that when it comes time for me to make the next "big move" in my career, I'll be able to handle just about anything. I guess, if you can dodge a wrench, then you can dodge a dodge ball.

Sometimes, when we are confronted with a task that seems impossible, it's really a blessing in disguise.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.