This is me, Rebecca Townsend, in my library at home in Boone County, Missouri, a few miles south of Columbia, approximately 2010. (Photo credit to Clyde Townsend)
This timeline is a work in progress: I’m sorting through old files and papers, trying to create a visual map documenting my professional journey thus far. This will be like an evolving scrapbook.
Since 2015, I’ve been a professional massage therapist, working to help build Lift Therapeutic Massage, a well-respected, independent massage studio near the Eli Lilly headquarters in Downtown Indianapolis. I’ve done some freelance writing (two examples are offered below: the first from Sophisticated Living Indianapolis, the next from Farm Indiana) since losing my full-time journalism job in 2014, but most of my creative efforts are now focused on personal endeavors to be publicized later on.
Also, a boxing story written in 2013 garnered the interest of John Bansch, a legendary Indianapolis Star sports reporter who also volunteered as publicity chair for the Indiana Golden Gloves. He knew he was going to die (which he did last spring, the day before the Gloves started) and he recruited me to take on his duties — essentially hitting up local media and business to support amateur boxing. So now I sit ringside during the tournament and publish the commemorative program for the championship, telling the stories of incredible athletes such as Frank Martin, the first Indiana fighter to win a National Golden Gloves title in 23 years. I’ve hyperlinked this photo of Martin to a digitized copy of the story I wrote for the 2017 Golden Gloves program:
From left: Ike Boyd, Rebecca Townsend and Frank Martin following Martin’s victory in the Indiana Golden Gloves in April 2017.
In my one-year contract as sideline reporter for Indy Eleven broadcasts to local television and national streaming audiences, I covered one of my life’s greatest passions (soccer) from an intimate vantage point. Some of my favorite memories include witnessing the posturing between the opposing coaches and the refs that one can only truly appreciate from close range.
More clips to come, but for starters, here is my interview with the legendary Thomas Rongen, then coach of the North American Soccer League’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, in town for a May 30 match against Indy Eleven.
Here’s a brief clip from later in the season with Indy Eleven coach Tim Regan.
Also in 2015, while working toward my degree at the Indiana College of Sports and Medical Massage, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. My answers placed me in the “supervisor” category: ESTJ. Here’s a brief summary of the characteristics associated with ESTJ personality types.
A year of great highs and lows. 2014 took me to Brazil for the World Cup.
2014 also saw me lose my job at NUVO a month after returning home from the Cup. No, I did not lose my job because of my sabbatical at the Cup. At least not that anyone would admit to my face. I was told by the managing editor (who himself would quit a short time later), “NUVO is moving a new direction, we’re going to have to let you go. We feel you’d be happier at a place with more resources.” “Who wouldn’t be?” I thought. And the ironic thing is, aside from being heartbroken and feeling betrayed, I was happier as soon as I drove out of the parking lot and never had to check my NUVO email again. I had been a one-woman newsroom, unable to stick to just one beat. Keeping up with the avalanche of information dumped on me 24 hours a day was exhausting. [Also, I’d been through the personal wringer during this time: the loss of my mom (57) and grandma (93) in 2010, my dad (60) in 2011, a catastrophic flood at the cabin I grew up in Monroe County in 2012 and a four-year, total-gut-job home renovation project in Indianapolis that lasted from 2012-2016. One of those years we were commuting back and forth between Bloomington and Indy. The last year of that project (while in massage college), I lived in an RV in the back yard of our Indy house with my husband, then 12-year-old daughter, two dogs and a cat. Chaos.]
The afternoon after I lost my NUVO job, at my soccer coaching job on the International School of Indiana’s beautiful grass fields just across the White River from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I thought, “Yeah, I’m happier already. Who is the loser here? Me, out on this glorious field inspiring the Lady Gryphons to greatness? Or the people who will likely die of heart attacks, cracked out on their laptops under fluorescent lights in partitioned cubicles?” On more than one occasion in the newsroom, I’d been exhausted and overwhelmed, certain that I’d die at my desk and no one would care — that all the effort it took to be a committed journalist would be a waste.
So it came to be, following a blissful vision of health and balance that began to unfold to me one night under the stars near the lighthouse on the coast of Salvador, Brazil (just a few hours after the U.S. Men’s National Team conceded defeat to Belgium in the Round of 16), I entered the Indiana College of Sports and Medical Massage in Carmel (now Indiana Massage College). Downsized out of my alt weekly job after earning an SPJ award for my coverage of the shrinking Star newsroom (see the 2011 section), I figured I may need another trade to support myself as a journalist. Given the political headwinds blowing ever since, perhaps the temporary pause in active-duty, front-line journalism served as a blessing — an opportunity to breathe deeply and release stress during a period of intense national anxiety, compose my thoughts on “fake news,” “citizen journalism,” and the roles different forms of journalism can play in democratic society.
It invigorates me to look back and know I produced a solid body of work during my tenure. (And I know I have plenty more in the tank.)
Consider the variety of topics my NUVO news desk covered…
Keeping track of the State of Indiana’s activities on environmental issues occupied a good deal of my time. Here are some examples:
Editing retired U.S. Congressman Andy Jacobs Jr.’s weekly Thought Bite columns led to a sweet but brief friendship. Jacobs, a 30-year member of the U.S. House of Representatives, prolific writer and a veteran of the Korean War, passed away in 2013, less than two years after I met him. I was honored to publish the following tribute (click the hyperlinked picture to read the full piece):
Here you can see two examples of my cover stories, as well as the results of a re-design the publisher carried out while I was working at NUVO. I received a promise that the news section would never drop below two pages. Months later, I was fighting off an attempt to cut it further.
The following story is among my favorites from the NUVO days. Randy was able to stay in school and graduate — and school officials were on the hot seat. This story also provided and example of how I would publish web packages using my photos, video and info graphics to complement my written stories.
Also during this time, a professional soccer team developed in Indy from the ground up — and I had a front row seat. I produced many web exclusives as the team developed over the seasons, but I also may hold a state (possible national) record for most print real estate dedicated to soccer coverage. The feature pictured below was released just ahead of the team’s inaugural game. Anyone recall another Indiana soccer story that garnered a cover plus five whole pages inside?
The same week we ran my Indy Eleven story, I covered efforts to bolster inner-city quality of life (among other items) — and we ran an opinion piece by Dr. Louis Profeta. “Your Kid and My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros” probably still holds the record for one of the most popular pieces we ever posted online. Dr. Profeta introduced himself to me at the gym one day after I finished boxing. He, too, boxed, if I remember correctly. That conversation led to him running his piece with me. Lucky NUVO!
Also this year, my coverage of the Golden Gloves earned an SPJ sports reporting award.
This year was an endurance test: a presidential AND a gubernatorial race, not to mention a slew of local offices up for grabs. (We’d just had a mayoral election in 2011!) But most importantly, a story I edited and contributed to with my data analysis and reporting skills, “Separation Anxiety: The Twisted Web of Church and State” earned SPJ Indiana Pro Chapter’s first place for investigative reporting in 2012.
Here’s what my election guides looked like. (The latter won SPJ’s second best political coverage for a non-daily in 2012.)
As soon as I returned to Indiana, I began winning awards for NUVO, including for my 2011 Election Guides. Within a year, SPJ’s Indiana Pro chapter asked me to be on their board and soon promoted me to vice president, a position I held until resigning in early 2017. (Please note the local reporting awards are judged by out-of-state chapters and our chapter reciprocates by serving other regions’ judging needs.)
On June 8, 2011, NUVO ran a letter from the publisher announcing my arrival as news editor:
Though I love traveling the world, it felt great to be welcomed home to Indiana in 2011.
As I was wrapping up my thesis, my advisor and I distilled its core findings into an article for the peer-reviewed journal Literary Journalism Studies.
My authentic coffee-or-wine-stained cover of the issue of “Literary Journalism Studies” an containing an article on my theory of writing culture.
In the summer of 2009, for a number of reasons but driven chiefly by the financial burden of having an unsold house Missouri while we were paying to live in Downtown Chicago, I resigned from Dow Jones and the family returned to Missouri where I began volunteering at KBIA while I plotted my next career move. During that time, I helped bring the KBIA team a 2011 Edward R. Murrow investigative reporting award for a nuclear industry whistleblower’s chronicle, “Safety Culture at the Callaway Plant.”
By the end of the year, the Missouri Broadcasters Association offered me an opportunity that presented one of the greatest challenges and triumphs of my career: the chance to build a multimedia newsroom from the ground up inside the magnificent Missouri State Capitol.
Newspapers, radio and television stations statewide would pick up my stories, video clips, photos and audio packages from Missouri News Horizon. Here are two examples pulled from the online archives of the Southeast Missourian and KOLR Springfield’s OzarksFirst.com.
Here is an example of a citizen environmental blog picking up a piece I wrote for statewide distribution:
Working with these dudes (and Ian Berry, not pictured) was one of the highlights of my professional career thus far. From left: Tom Polansek, Theopolis Waters and Andrew Johnson with me at the Chicago Board of Trade, New Year’s Eve 2008.
Seven months after moving to Jersey City, I was given what the recruiting editor said was the fastest promotion in Dow Jones history when they sent me to Chicago to be a commodities reporter, which put me at the Chicago Board of Trade on the day during the financial crisis when the Dow Jones Industrial Average bottomed out.
During the chaos, I achieved a career milestone: my bylines in the Wall Street Journal. Not the front page, and no major investigations, but still, I had arrived …
This picture of some of the pieces I wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal shows the variety of headlines and issues I was handling during the Dow Jones days.
The stack of papers is the total data requests I filled for newsrooms around the country the morning after the tragic I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in which 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured. I was the sole employee on duty that morning at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
My investigative environmental work is featured in Mizzou’s alumni magazine.
Despite the tragic fashion decision I made by wearing those shoes, I was happy to be featured in MIZZOU Magazine. I especially like this quote the reporter used: “Environmental reporting isn’t just about the scare of the day,” Townsend says. “The journalist’s role should be to consistently assess the health of the environment and let people know what you find.”
The public media outlet KBIA on campus allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream of broadcasting the news on the radio. In recognition of my efforts, the news director Sarah Ashworth gave me a sweet certificate:
In addition to completing an independent mapping project with Professor David Herzog, I also earned a Mapping Boot Camp certificate with Professor Brant Houston.
By the fall of 2007, I had a full-time reporting gig at Dow Jones Newswires, relocating to Jersey City. My daily reporting focus shifted from the environment to the economy, which was on the verge of an epic meltdown.
This is Missouri Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow Class XII on its trip to DC in 2008. That’s me two to the left of Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. We watched his staff at the National Agricultural Statistics Service release one of its top secret crop reports. (Yes, just like from “Trading Places”!) Together our ALOT class traveled to every corner of Missouri, plus DC, and our experience culminated on a two-week tour of France and the Czech Republic. This underscores why I love agriculture. It is a global beat that involves nearly everything.
I earned an A in investigative journalism from Professor Brant Houston, former president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, for a story I did using computer-assisted reporting techniques (joining tables in two separate spreadsheets of public information) to illustrate the challenges the county sewer inspection team was having in keeping up with the demands of the job, allowing local water treatment providers to operate on expired permits. The story made the Missourian’s front page on November 28, 2006.
An “enterprise join” learned from the investigative journalists at the University of Missouri enabled me to write a front-page investigative story on the county’s sewage treatment inspection backlog.
Less than one month after moving to Columbia, on Jan. 23, 2006, I made the Missourian front page for the first time — with another story about water quality.
The state environmental officials did not want to turn over the study that ended up leading to this headline, but my Missourian editor, John Schneller, encouraged me to stay on them. Persistence paid off!
In my seventh year of covering the livestock industry, I’d spent a lot of time writing about animal welfare issues and interviewing some of the world’s leading researchers on the topic.
In 2005, SPJ’s national membership magazine put out a call, looking for “extreme journalists” to interview. I wrote and made a case for agriculture as an “extreme” beat. Quill agreed and sent a writer to interview me. They even gave me a shoutout on the cover.
I’m proud to report that while working for AgriNews, a publication taken almost exclusively by rural, white farmers, I was able to produce award-winning coverage about issues faced by migrant workers.
(Even though I’d been married for almost 5 years at this point, I still used my maiden name at AgriNews because I’d started with the company as Wilson and I wanted continuity in my byline. The award below came in 2006, while I was already at Mizzou, for a story written in 2005, so I switched to Townsend.)
The Society of Environmental Journalists includes some of the world’s finest journalists — enabling them to support each other in bolstering the media industry’s — and the public’s — understanding of some of the most complicated issues this planet faces. I’ve attended SEJ conferences in Texas, Montana, Florida, Wisconsin and Vermont.
During what would be my last year with Indiana AgriNews, I joined teachers from all over the world for a week in Bloomington as we explored worldwide food and resource issues. This undertaking foreshadowed a continued interest in food systems, the environment and world economy, which I continued to build on the commodities desk at Dow Jones and as a member of Class 12 of Missouri’s Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow (ALOT) educational/leadership development program.
My job at Indiana AgriNews offered the opportunity to write many articles about the intersections of the biomedical and agricultural industries. Here’s an example (that’s my picture, too):
Dick Holden was my editor from 1992-1996 at the work study job I held at Earlham’s Office of College Relations all four years of my undergraduate career. He wrote this letter to me in 2003. As you can see, he was a solid writer. As you may imagine, I learned a lot from him.
In late 1997, I received an invitation and a challenge to start a restaurant at the corner of 54th and College (in the same location Yat’s occupies now). I accepted the invitation, wrote a business plan, secured a $20,000 private investment and a $100,000 SBA loan and managed to have Modern Times Urban Truck Stop and Bookstore open in less than 6 months. Though I closed a year and half later, I count several victories for this project: 1) Most restaurants close in less than a year. We did better. And a lot of people loved us. We grossed more than $250,000 during our time of operation. 2) We did not have to claim bankruptcy. 3) We are still remembered for our legendary style.
Me in 1998 making a Chicago dog in the Modern Times kitchen. And an snippet of the menu:
This letter from my supervising attorney at Roberts & Bishop, Kevin S. (RIP), is among my most treasured endorsements. Berkley rejected my application, but a decade later the University of Missouri offered me a free ride, so everything worked out as it should. During my time at Roberts & Bishop, I interviewed new clients and filed initial paperwork in personal injury and discrimination cases. Also, I solicited new corporate clients and helped a senior partner organize, edit and publish a book on practice management.
Me with my hustlin’ Quakers defensive line getting our game faces on ahead of a 1995 match at Kenyon. We earned a program win record during this year, my senior season.
In the summer of 1995, I enjoyed taking classes at IU and my co-ed soccer team (read: three girls and 14 guys), Hoosier Outdoor, beat Pegasus, a team led by IU soccer alums, in Bloomington’s recreational soccer tournament, a highlight in my three-decade soccer career!
My graduation project from Bloomington’s Harmony School required me to relocate to New York City, where I worked an editorial internship for Sassy Magazine, a national publication for teen girls.
This is the evaluation of my supervisor, Christina Kelly, a senior writer and editor. I particularly like this part: “I really am very impressed with Rebecca. She shows a lot of promise, and I think she’ll be a success at whatever she decides to do.”
I enjoyed talking to Marlon Wayans. This interview happened before I had real training in professional boundaries, so before I prepared to leave the office where I was speaking to Marlon and one of his friends — and driven by a fluster of hormones and ambition, I used the strongest pickup line I knew: “Has anyone ever told you that you are a total babe?” It must have been hard for a comedian not to laugh in my face as his assistant kindly moved me toward to he door. Still, It looks like that theme inspired me as I wrote …
Observing street life in the city and talking to some of the characters I met presented the opportunity for me to slip “The Best Thing About NYC Subways” into the magazine:
Here’s a feature Steve Hinnefeld wrote for the Herald Times wrote upon my return:
Upon returning from NYC, I did some freelancing before leaving Bloomington for Earlham College in the fall.
Here’s a feature I wrote on storied drummer Kenny Aronoff:
Did you know that Kenny Aronoff started the famous Roach Motel across Indiana Avenue from IU’s Dunn Meadow?
At 17 years old, I moved out of my mother’s house and began living in Downtown Bloomington, supporting myself by working at the Red Chair Bakery on Kirkwood. When I resigned that job before moving to New York City, the bakery’s owner wrote a recommendation for me.
Me on break in the summer of 1991, enjoying a Dagwood’s sub on the Kirkwood Avenue curb in front of the Red Chair Bakery (now absorbed into the Village Deli).