Contributor close-up: Nathan Blackwell

Nathan Blackwell

Publisher’s note: We continue our profiles aimed at helping readers get to know the people behind the names you see in our publications. Here’s the background on reporter Nathan Blackwell.

I grew up in Montana and one of my fondest memories was learning to read at an early age. My grandmother was a retired school teacher for deaf and blind students who was patient enough to guide me through lessons at home using old Sally, Dick and Jane books for developing reading skills. This led to a lifelong love of reading, a skill which I still equate to my first real experience of freedom because of the participatory choices it allowed me to make. Being able to pick out what I wanted to read on my own further inspired my imagination, stoking a sense of curiosity and thirst for knowledge about the greater world beyond my day-to-day life that I continue to carry forward.

When I learned how to write and further build upon that initial foundation, I was hooked on the personal empowerment provided by literacy and enjoyed it immensely. Shortly after kindergarten I received a journal-type of book with blank pages and set about writing down all of the stories I knew at that time, which were mostly children’s fairy tales. Even though these were not my creations, it was so rewarding to realize that I could now document knowledge and experiences gained in a manner that was more easily understandable than any crude stick figure-type drawings I was capable of then.

After bedtime I would often sneak a flashlight into my room and stay up late reading. I soon learned that it was better to do so from underneath the covers which would allow less light to leak out from beneath the bedroom door and thereby giving away my extra nocturnal literature activities. I loved going to bookstores and libraries were an awe-inspiring revelation to me. Several times throughout the years I managed to get in trouble during school for hiding whatever book I preferred to read inside of the text book we would be going over as a class during lessons.

I enjoyed reading novels and also books about historical figures, but first learned to love journalism through Sports Illustrated magazine. We didn’t have cable television at my house and so I was only able to follow my favorite teams and players through newspaper box scores and whatever spotty national highlights were played during the three local news broadcasters’ nightly five-minute sports segments. In fifth grade my mom got me a subscription to the magazine which I began reading cover-to-cover to get the most out of it. I relished being able to read about more in-depth details and analysis from big games and teams of interest in such a way that the sports section of my local newspaper just couldn’t provide. Between the writing itself and high quality color photographs used, suddenly I could almost feel as if I had been transported and bore witness to them myself.

Soon I discovered that good writing, even about subjects or events I had no real interest in such as horse racing, could draw me in and keep my attention riveted to the stories and people portrayed within. I developed a respect for long-form journalism and its ability to provide greater contexts, details and understanding of its subjects. Before long I had added specific writers to my list of favorite teams and players that I hoped to see represented in each week’s magazine.

I first tried my hand at news during my junior year of high school by taking an introduction to photography and journalism class as an elective. It also happened to be a prerequisite for being on the staff of the student newspaper and by the next year I was writing sports stories and serving as a co-editor of the publication.

I was intrigued by the possibility of pursuing journalism as a career but didn’t want to follow the traditional path of going off to college and then afterward having to move to various small towns that typically provide entry-level opportunities. I put my time and efforts towards the goal of moving to the Seattle area with an eye on eventually going to a community college.

My respect for long-form journalism and various forms of storytelling continued to grow through PBS programs, particularly Frontline. A few years after moving to the Puget Sound region, I played footsie with journalism again by taking some classes and contributing to the student newspaper at Shoreline Community College. But I wasn’t yet ready to commit myself to attempting to write for a career and wound up taking another ten years off from school.

Finally, after realizing other life goals such as purchasing a house, and more than twenty years after graduating high school I got serious about furthering my education in order to pursue a job that would require me to develop and use writing and creativity skills. It was scary to take that leap, my previous time had been spent working in the service industry and other than developing people skills through those interactions I had no relevant experience to my goal and was essentially starting anew.

I’m so glad that I stepped outside of my previous comfort zone and undertook the challenge. I not only enjoyed going to school but relished the opportunity for learning and personal growth. Even though journalism was a consideration, I also wanted to keep an open-mind about other possible job outcomes. I knew that I wanted to use creative communication skills, but still wasn’t necessarily sure how.

I decided to pursue either a degree in human services or communications in order to work at a nonprofit organization or civic institution helping other people. But journalism still intrigued me in the back of my mind. I wondered, “Could I get in the ring, so to speak, and would my writing skills allow me to hang?”

I believe fate came calling, when shortly before finishing with an associate degree in arts and sciences from Everett Community College, a professor of mine recommended I pursue communications because she felt it would provide me with a more fulfilling educational challenge. Some of my previous college transfer credits from Shoreline weren’t recognized by that program and it was cheaper for me to take three additional classes at Everett before moving on.

During that academic quarter I decided to round out my experience by trying my hand once more at journalism and applied to be on the staff of The Clipper student newspaper. I thought it would be fun and might also be my last chance to “see if I could hang.” That led to an opportunity afterward for gaining additional experience while getting paid as a freelance journalist for an area newspaper while I was attending WSU Everett to study strategic communications.

It turns out my six-year-old self with the book of blank pages was on to something, I like collecting and writing stories and started to believe that maybe I could “step in the ring and hang.” Before my last semester in school began, I started reaching out to other local news publications in the area to inquire about possible freelancing opportunities in order to gain more experience in journalism.

The journalism industry has experienced significant declines in jobs over the past two decades and during the summer of 2020 as the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic unfurled most local outlets were cutting staff and/or contracting their budgets for freelancers. But I was fortunate enough to have fired off an unsolicited email inquiry to Teresa at My Edmonds News, who said she would be happy to talk about such part-time opportunities.

I jumped at the chance to start covering Mountlake Terrace City Council meetings for MLTnews and whatever else happened to come my way. Six months later I was graduating with my bachelor’s degree and had been offered a full-time reporting position.

I feel honored to now be writing for a living and take the responsibilities and ethics associated with good journalism seriously. I enjoy talking to people, learning about issues and conveying stories. It’s imperative to not only be accurate in telling them, but also be accountable to both the public they serve and those people whose stories are told. I really like trying to determine and provide the contexts around issues and subjects reported on.

I have been happy to call south Snohomish County home for almost 20 years now. During that time, I have lived in almost every city between Shoreline and Everett. I love this area because of its close proximity to the Cascade mountains, the waters of Puget Sound, Seattle and all of the opportunities they provide for recreation and entertainment.

When not writing, I like to listen to non-pop music from hardcore punk rock, hip hop and blues artists. I still enjoy watching sports, particularly hockey and football. Other hobbies I’m fond of include photography, camping and hiking. Since moving to Washington I haven’t done much fishing, like I used to in Montana, but would like to reconnect with it and one day catch a local salmon.

— By Nathan Blackwell 

 

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