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Published March 10 2012

Swift: Feature writer comes full circle to news side

I don’t know how many of you cried on your first day at work.

I did.

The year was 1988. I was a freshly minted college graduate, anxious to take the newspaper world by storm.

At the time, I was determined to be a feature writer – someone who wrote softer, magazine-style, human-interest pieces.

But there were only so many newspaper jobs to be had in North Dakota. And so I grudgingly accepted the one offer that did come my way: Dickinson bureau reporter for the Bismarck Tribune.

From the beginning, I was terrified. I was pretty sure I could write stories about the guy who taught his parakeet to play piano. But real news? How could I move to a new community and figure out everything I needed to cover? What if I missed a huge story?

And so, over lunch hour on my first day at work, I did what any mature, confident, level-headed journalist would do.

I called my mother and burst into tears.

In between sobs and gulps for air, I wailed that I was sure the Tribune had made a terrible mistake, and I would be fired by the end of the week.

My poor mother somehow talked me down from the ledge. I plunged into my new job. I did some things right and many things wrong. Miraculously, I was not fired.

I worked as a hard news reporter for a year and a half. In fact, I was just getting the hang of it when I landed a feature-writing job in the Bismarck office.

And so began my love affair with feature writing.

I loved the creativity and storytelling aspects of feature writing and the many chances to write about real people who accomplish cool things.

But now it seems I’ve come full circle. For the first time in my 14 years at The Forum, I’m back on the news side.

That means my column will appear on the cover of the Metro section on Sundays, and my stories won’t be strictly confined to the feature sections.

It’s still a little terrifying. And yet I think it’s time. Yes, I will miss the opportunity to write about Brazilian Blowouts and Pajama Jeans.

On the other hand, there are some feature fixtures I won’t miss. Things like:

<•> Publicity flacks trying to convince me to do stories on International Mayonnaise Month or National Hangnail Awareness Week.

<•> Reviewing local productions that feature the elderly or children, which means writing something so cautiously diplomatic and gently constructive it would make Marilyn Hagerty sound like Gordon Ramsay.

<•> Being called to track down a recipe that someone “thinks” ran in The Forum. A typical request: “I think you ran a recipe for a type of cake in the paper last week. All I know is that it had salt in it.”

After hours of detective work, I would call back to discover the caller found the recipe on her own. And it actually ran in the Tuscaloosey Tattler back in 1972. And it wasn’t for cake, it was for meatloaf. And it didn’t contain salt.

<•> Trying to find a new spin for events that happen every year, such as Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July or the Super Bowl: “Here’s how to make your dog a sweater out of dryer lint and those stale candy hearts!” Or: “Here’s how to throw a vegan, Fourth of July party for the color-blind anarchist!”

<•> Coming up with art for feature stories that do not present obvious photo opportunities. So many times I’ve found myself in The Forum’s photo studio shaping raw bacon into a heart for a male-centric Valentine’s story or thinking of tasteful ways to illustrate erectile dysfunction or incontinence.

Yes, those little irritations won’t be missed.

And, dear readers, there’s no need to worry. My move to the news side doesn’t mean I’m going to get all serious. I will not quote George Will, invest in a monocle or adopt “serious hair.”

I may write hard news stories occasionally. But I also hope to infuse the news pages with more “feature-y” content, like personality profiles, day-in-the-life pieces and cat style shows.

Just kidding on that last one.

I think.

OK, if you know about one, you totally need to call me.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com