Erin Strout: Writer, editor, sports and outdoor enthusiast who believes in quality journalism. And wine. And coffee. I believe in wine and coffee.
the Story of a Journalism career
On one Thanksgiving Day in the early 1980s, I ran around the house, spiral notebook and No. 2 pencil in hand, asking everybody what they were thankful for that year. I scribbled out an article—direct quotes and all—and passed it around the dinner table. No corrections were requested, just some proud grownups heaping praise over mashed potatoes, who eventually cheered me on right through a journalism degree at Penn State University 15 or so years later (truth be told, I really majored in the Daily Collegian). As graduation day neared, my grandfather finally found it less cute and more concerning, asking earnestly one afternoon, "But how are you going to make money?" while slipping me a twenty dollar bill "for gas."
THE Easton Express Times
It was a fair question and one I still need to ask myself periodically in the ever-changing landscape of the media industry. I started out at the Easton Express Times, humbly covering small-town city council meetings, late-night fires, and the crime beat (back when you were relegated to the desk with the police scanner screeching at you all day long). The daily was my grandfather's hometown paper. Much to his delight he could read my clips every morning while eating his grapefruit, knowing I was at least making the rent on my attic apartment a few miles down the highway. This was when people read newspapers. It was a long time ago.
Sales & Marketing Management
The city had always beckoned, though, and just a year later I was New York-bound to take an associate editor position at a trade business magazine: Sales & Marketing Management (coined "the Vanity Fair of business trades" back in the day, I swear). I lived above a Chinese restaurant on Second Avenue first, then eventually five flights of stairs above a dry cleaner off of First Avenue, after I was promoted to senior editor. It was at this small-but-mighty business magazine where I thrived, writing long-form features, learning about Corporate America, editing departments, collaborating with the art department, and hiring freelancers. We won prestigious journalism awards and celebrated. We celebrated a lot. It was that job—the one you did not appreciate enough at the time, fully ignorant of the fact that all those elements so rarely come together in a single workplace. Mentors galore, creative and fun colleagues, opportunities to advance, healthy dot-com-fueled expense accounts, and laughter. So much laughter. The late-90s were a glorious time for all. This was back when people read magazines. Again, a long time ago.
The Chronicle of higher education
One day—as the final episodes of "Sex & the City" and "Friends" both aired—it felt like the right time to herald in another new era. I turned 30, moved to Washington, D.C., and started a reporting position at The Chronicle of Higher Education all in one week. At the Chronicle (or, le Chron, as we affectionally called it), I covered the business of higher education, focusing on fund raising, philanthropy, and endowment management. I will never work with a more intelligent, critical, clever group of individuals. My brain felt appropriately exercised every day for five years. It was a weekly newspaper with high standards for deeply researched, thoroughly edited, highly articulate pieces that met the needs of a discerning audience. This particular audience still reads newspapers and magazines, while shunning clickbait listicles. I will love them forever.
The Freelancing Years + Move west
Alas, one can only write about Harvard's latest multimillion-dollar private donation so many times before curiosity for other topics begins to kick in. I started rogue writing for the athletics department and taking freelance projects from Runner's World on the side. A budding triathlete and evolving running nerd, I became more interested in health, fitness, and endurance sports. I knew I had hit a breaking point when I volunteered to write a piece on MRSA outbreaks in NCAA locker rooms. I explored ways in which an athletic lifestyle could live in harmony with my profession. I quit my job, became a full-time freelancer, and moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where, rumor had it, all the fastest runners trained. I hoped the leap of faith would eventually work itself out—in the meantime I was perfectly content counting PB&J as a staple meal and pitching my proximity to the world's best athletes to any editor who would listen.
Running times + Runner's world
The assignments trickled in slowly from Runner's World, Running Times (rest in peace), ESPN-W, and a few other media outlets. I started to gain a bit of traction toward my fantasy life, where the line between work and play started to blur. A full-time senior editor position opened up at Running Times, which wouldn't require me to pack up the U-Haul and return to eastern Pennsylvania. And while I'd love to say all of this came together purely by luck, it didn't.
At the end of 2015, Running Times ceased publication. What was I saying about people not reading magazines anymore? I mourned for many reasons—I believed in its content and quality, its audience, and its place in the sport. The loss of a job title also causes extreme sadness, by the way. On the upside, Runner's World came through. I am now working as a contributing editor for the RW Newswire team, covering the professional side of the sport of running. I get to go to neat places like the Boston and New York City marathons, and the Olympic Trials. I meet the country's best distance runners out for coffee and watch them run while they're in Flagstaff to train for world championships and the Rio Games. It never gets old.
My new role provides the opportunity to take on new freelance projects and I hope my many years of experience will be put to the test in ways I haven't yet imagined. When I published that first expose´on what the Strout family was thankful for in 1984, I certainly wouldn't have guessed it would one day lead me across the country to a small mountain town at 7,000 feet above sea level. It's a far cry from the cops beat, that's for sure.