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 evolving scrapbook. I’m beginning with a solid outline that I will fill out as time allows. The journalistic journey has been a wild ride thus far: some of the best and worst days of my life!
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, as I focus the balance of my time on personal, creative endeavors and coaching youth soccer. To me, it feels like I was just beginning to spread my journalistic wings when I lost my job as NUVO news editor in 2014, so this timeline represents an effort to document where I’ve been to help me figure out where I’m going.
I was honored when Indy Eleven President Peter Wilt and Larry Linde, the Eleven’s director of corporate partnerships and broadcasting, offered me a one-year contract to cover the team as their sideline reporter for broadcast to local television and national streaming audiences. I was disappointed when 2016 budget restraints prevented the team from continued support of my sideline reporting efforts, but was thankful for the amazing opportunity to cover one of my life’s greatest passions (soccer) from such 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 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, 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. Still, I look back and know I produced a solid body of work during my tenure.
Keeping track of the State of Indiana’s activities on environmental issues occupied a good deal of my time. Here’s an example:
The afternoon after I lost my 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, 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, 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 Salvadore, Brazil, just a few hours after the U.S. Men’s National Team conceded defeat to Belgium in the Round of 16, I entered massage college. Downsized out of my alt weekly job after earning an SPJ award for my coverage of the shrinking Star newsroom, I figured I may need another trade to support myself as a journalist.
Here are a couple of my cover stories (The story on the left won a criminal justice reporting award. The story on the right led to a major shakeup at the Indiana National Guard.) This photo also illustrates the incredible shrinking print needs landscape I’ve witnessed, comparing a pre re-design issue with an issue released after the publisher’s re-design, which happened in 2013.
Given the political headwinds blowing ever since, perhaps the temporary pause in active-duty, frontline journalism served as a blessing — an opportunity to breathe deeply and release stress during a period of intense national anxiety. Deep breathing is necessary to compose my thoughts on “fake news,” “citizen journalism,” and the roles different forms of journalism can play in democratic society.
A year and half after NUVO sales manager Mary Morgan introduced me to Peter Wilt, the consultant who would become the first president of Indy Eleven, I’d watched a professional soccer team grow up from the grassroots in Indy. 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 people can’t learn what they don’t know. (Which was why it was extra important to me to tell the DaMarcus Beasley story in 2014 — I felt compelled to introduce to locals the story of a world-famous athlete who is barely known in his home state, which tends to be hyper-focused on basketball, football and baseball.)
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!
We tried to offer readers a wide variety of topics for consideration. Indy has a huge Burmese population, for example, so in one issue we explored the community from several angles.
This year almost killed me: a presidential AND a gubernatorial race, not to mention a slew of local offices up for grabs. But most importantly, a story I edited and to which contributed 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:
As soon as I returned to Indiana, I began winning awards for NUVO, including for my 2012 and 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.)
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-review journal Literary Journalism Studies.
My authentic coffee-or-wine-stained cover of the issue of “Literary Journalism Studies” that contained 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, I was offered 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.
Leading newspapers, television and radio stations across the state regularly ran our pieces. A decade later, a quick Google search the Southeast Missourian website still hosts a nice sampling of my stories, so does OzarksFirst.com, the website for KOLR 10 of Springfield. Our stories offered tremendous value to television stations, which would use our video clips and copy for their live broadcasts, then our fully developed print stories with photo and video elements embedded on their websites.
The influence of my Missouri News Horizon stories went beyond traditional media. 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) at Dow Jones Newswires in 2008 and 2009 was one of the highlights of my professional career thus far. From left: Tom Polansek, Theopolis Waters and Andrew Johnson with me on 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 fast 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 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 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 fielded from 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 — plenty of helpers chipped in by the end of the day!
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 to discuss agriculture and related issues, 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. The ALOT program encourages its members to “ask the tough questions.”
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 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. The information I gleaned in these meetings had a fundamental effect on my development as a journalist.
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 at Dow Jones and as a member of Missouri’s Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow (ALOT) Class XII 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):
I moved from Bloomington to Indy in January of 1997 to work at the largest minority-owned law firm in the state. As director of corporate communications and client development, I interviewed all incoming clients and filed in initial paperwork in many personal injury and federal discrimination cases. The following letter was written by my managing attorney at the firm, Kevin Scionti. Though Berkley rejected my application, this letter is among my most treasured endorsements. And considering that a decade later the University of Missouri offered my a full ride to its journalism program, everything worked as it should.
This letter from my supervising attorney at Roberts & Bishop, Kevin S. (RIP), is among my most treasured endorsements.
I edited this book for Ken Roberts, the firm’s senior partner, as well:
As a senior, my Earlham soccer team set a win record for the program. (This is me with my defensive line getting our game faces on before a match at Kenyon.)
Harmony High School used teacher evaluations to assess student progress. Considering I had no experience in the art of making the grade upon my arrival at college, I managed to graduate with a decent GPA. I believe at Mizzou I pushed it up to a 3.85.
In the summer of 1995, I enjoyed taking classes at IU and my co-ed soccer team (read: two girls and 14 guys), Hoosier Outdoor, beat Pegasus, a team led by IU soccer alums, in the city’s recreational soccer summer 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 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 this bit 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 for one of the HT’s special publications aimed at new university students:
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.
During theses days, I was fueled mostly on beer and cookie dough.