Columns, News, Opinion, UCM News

Muleskinner adviser found family at UCM

Twelve years ago, I was standing in the middle of Douglas Street in downtown Lee’s Summit getting my picture taken.

I’d just returned to that fabled suburb of prosperity and sweet outdoor shopping malls after a stint with the daily newspaper in Sedalia. Prior to that, I worked at the Lee’s Summit Journal for several years. Now I was the editor of a competing newspaper down the street.

Matt Bird-Meyer, Muleskinner faculty adviser and assistant professor, assists Garret Fuller, Muleskinner Senior Writer, in the design of a page. (Photo by Erin Wides/Features Editor)

Anyway, so I’m standing there for a staff photo – the road was closed for construction – when Nick Swearngin from John’s Barber Shop walks out of his shop to shake my hand.

“Welcome home, Matt,” he said.

A city councilman, respected downtown business owner and civic leader welcomed me home – a lowly community journalist. That was the best feeling in the world.

Although I still lived in Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit felt like home. Maybe I felt like an outsider, but I still invested so much in the people and the community. As the editor of the community newspaper, I challenged my reporters to find stories that made a difference, that were meaningful and that sought solutions to problems. I wasn’t interested in stories that only described problems. And people engaged with us. They wrote letters. They wrote guest columns. They called the office. It was such an enriching experience.

So, when I eventually found my way back to academics, when I came to work at UCM some eight years ago, it felt like another homecoming. And what I found here at UCM was truly a family.

The faculty welcomed me aboard and inspired me to seek a terminal degree and make a career in teaching. They took a chance with an untested teacher who spent most of his time in academics sitting in a classroom seat. My first taste of teaching came through an assistantship teaching public speaking. Later, I had a chance to teach a section of intro to digital journalism as an adjunct.

I never looked back.

Sharing what I love with young people is so fulfilling. Watching them grow into young professionals doing good journalism is out of this world. I read their work and I watch their news packages and it just fills me with so much pride.

Our kids are out there making a difference.

I found a welcoming family in our faculty, and I feel like the students – especially in the Muleskinner newsroom – also became like family over time. We spent countless hours slugging it out on deadline. We laughed a lot. We told stories. People cried. I may have shed a few tears. But those kids who came into the newsroom and stuck around, they were serious about their work. And they worked hard.

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone work as hard here as Jason Brown. Yeah, I’m calling you out Jason. In case you weren’t paying attention, dear reader, we experienced an unexpected vacancy at managing editor at the start of the spring semester. I immediately thought of Jason, who was working as our sports editor at the time, and he agreed to pick up the mantle.

He commutes from Blue Springs, comes early and stays late. When assignments get dropped he picks up a camera and recorder and dashes off to get the story covered. And when we couldn’t find a replacement sports editor, Jason continued to keep up with sports while also trying to keep up with the news.

For these reasons and more, I nominated Jason for Journalist of the Year through the Missouri College Media Association. He didn’t win but that doesn’t diminish the quality of his work and the sweat he put into helping inspire the staff to ultimately become recognized as the best college newspaper in the state of Missouri.

There are too many other students to name who have come through the Muleskinner that have left a lasting impression on the paper and will always have a place in my heart. Like many professors, I still keep in touch with many of them. Some come back to share their experiences with new students.

Unfortunately, I will not be back next year. I’ll be moving on to my next adventure in journalism. But I feel like I’m leaving the Muleskinner in capable hands with my colleagues here in the digital media production program.

Charlie Fair, the previous Muleskinner adviser, left me an extremely strong newspaper. I certainly hope I’ve done right by him here. But like my time in Lee’s Summit, I feel like I’ve invested so much in the students here at UCM and have watched them go on to bigger and better things that I’m fairly confident I did a couple things right.

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