By Jessica Smith
Allison Scarbrough found her passion for writing at a young age.
“Writing has always been my forte,” said Allison. During her senior year at Montague High School, she was the yearbook editor and “thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The summer following her freshman year at Central Michigan University, she was hired as an intern at Oceana’s Herald-Journal (OHJ), where she is now currently employed. She said, “I really got a taste for journalism and decided that was what I wanted to do.”
Allison graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies with a Journalism concentration. Recently, she obtained a one-year post-baccalaureate certification in Legal Studies from Davenport University.
During her summer vacations and Christmas breaks, she was an intern at OHJ throughout her college career. After graduating from college, her first job was at the White Lake Beacon in Whitehall, Michigan, which is now owned by Shoreline Media—the organization that also owns OHJ as well as the Ludington Daily News in Ludington, Michigan.
Since that time, she has worked for several newspapers in Michigan, including the daily newspaper Manistee News Advocate (MNA). During her employment at MNA, she started out as a crime beat reporter and got to handle all of the police stories and court news. “It was very interesting and fun,” said Allison. She was promoted to associate editor at MNA.
For Allison, the difficulties of being a tech writer, or in her case, a reporter, is “dealing with the low pay and sometimes long hours.” However, the best part of being a reporter is “seeing my byline in print and receiving compliments from my readers.”
During the nearly 20 years of her career, Allison has witnessed major advancements in technology. When she first started out as an intern, page design was handled with the old cut and paste method—literally.
Also, she said “we used film photography, so all photos were processed in the dark room; now everything is done digitally, and that saves so much time.” Currently, the software she uses is InDesign for the page layout, Photoshop for photography, and NewsEditPro for word processing.
Allison has been recognized for her work in writing/journalism. In 1996, she won an award from the Michigan Press Association in the news-writing category. She has also been published in a national magazine, Grit. In addition, she has worked as a paralegal for a law firm and a graphic designer for a horticultural marketing firm.
A day in the life for Allison consists of handling all of OHJ’s high school sports coverage, which includes compiling results, writing feature stories, preparing photography, and completing page design.
She also handles general news assignments and features. “I attend and report on various governmental meetings, such as school board and city council sessions,” she said.
In the summer months, when no high school sports events scheduled, she handles coverage of all summer events, which includes writing and overseeing previews, preparing page design, and distributing preview stories and photos to the editors of her news organization’s other summer publications.
“I also write crime/police reports when needed,” said Allison. She designs the sports pages and handles several other news and feature assignments. In addition, she designs other pages when needed, such as the school page, the obituary page, church page, and more.
Every day, Allison interviews many sources. Many of those sources include coaches, players, students, athletic directors, teachers, school principals, school superintendents, police officers, school board members, city council members, mayors, business owners, judges, lawyers, and others.
She corresponds constantly with fellow editorial members. “Our editorial staff is comprised of myself, the editor, another reporter, and a photographer,” she mentioned. Allison also communicates very often with other staff members—the graphic artist, the production coordinator, the publisher, advertising reps, the receptionist, and interns.
Allison’s current project could be described as “keeping up with the scores.” She is getting OHJ’s sports pages ready for the week. Since there are several rivalry games occurring during the week between the same schools, she came up with an idea to do a layout with a theme, “Rivalry Week.”
“I’m doing one main story that ties in all of the games with several photos taken at the game,” said Allison. She explained the page design includes the two contrasting school colors with each school’s mascot. “It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Allison said of the project.
She has also written two feature stories, one including photos, several short news stories, and is in the midst of writing the police news.
If Allison could start her career all over again, she thinks she would have pursued a career in broadcast journalism rather than print media. “The pay is better, and there are more opportunities for success,” she said. She has also regretted not becoming an attorney, “a position which requires strong writing skills and provides a much higher income,” she mentioned.
The one piece of advice Allison would offer is to “not take criticism too hard.” She explained the nature of the job is critiquing one’s work constantly to make it better and better.
“As new writers, you will be constantly developing and improving your writing technique,” said Allison. The one thing to remember, “Be thick skinned when it comes to criticism—it is only to your benefit.”