My journey through journalism


Annika Pepper

Throughout my time with The Prowler, I’ve been able to gain real-life journalism experience and determine what career path I want to go into. From talking to students, to alumni, to professional athletes, I’ve learned so much that I hope to contribute to my future.

I walked into the doors of Starr’s Mill my freshman year with no idea what I wanted to do with my future or where I would fit in. 

That first year, I decided to apply to join both journalism classes at the Mill — yearbook and newspaper. At the time my only reasons for applying were because I had room in my schedule, and I thought the classes sounded interesting. I had no intention of pursuing a job in the field of journalism. 

Now, I can’t picture my future self in a career other than one in communications.

I ended up being accepted into both courses and stuck with them through my senior year. 

Writing has always just been something I’m good at. A skill that comes natural to me, but not anything I thought I could make a career out of. This was one of the most important things the journalism courses at Starr’s Mill taught me. 

What I was doing every day for class was a job. In newspaper, in particular, that stuck with me because through my writing and editing I was doing exactly what others do for a living. I was learning skills I could and would use in real life. 

The turning point for me was when I was writing a promo for a NASCAR race weekend for a race track we had connections with. ”

— Editor-in-Chief Caylee Cicero

Compared to my other classes, I felt like the work I was doing really mattered. I was gaining hands-on experience I could take with me not just in college but into my career.

Still I couldn’t see my future in journalism. I didn’t see myself writing for a newspaper or magazine and I knew a job in video journalism was almost impossible to come by. The turning point for me was when I was writing a promo for a NASCAR race weekend for a race track we had connections with. 

Anyone who knows me knows my passion for NASCAR, which helped me sell the experience in the promo. Our advisor, Justin Spencer, came up to me after reading the article and recommended me to consider a career in public relations. I’ve taken this idea and ran with it, planning my future and goals around it. 

At the time, I honestly had no idea what a career in public relations would look like. Spencer sparked my interest, so I started learning about the media and communications side of NASCAR and professional sports in general. I had the privilege of talking to several Starr’s Mill alumni with similar careers who inspired me to follow in their footsteps. 

Talking to Panther grad Nicole Hendricks probably helped me to understand the relationship between public relations and professional sports the most. Hendricks works in PR for the Buffalo Bills and walked me through the variety of tasks from stat keeping, to writing for the Bills’ website, to handling media appearances that she takes on a daily basis in effort of maintaining the social image of the team. 

In addition to Hendricks, I was also able to talk to Starr’s Mill alumnus, Luke Behkne. Behkne started doing PR work for local racers in high school and has gone on to work in digital media for NASCAR. Behkne emphasized the importance of networking and internships in gaining a career in sports and gave me a lot of advice that I think will help me as I work toward a career.

Through newspaper, I’ve had a ton of opportunities to network as Behkne suggested. The biggest opportunity for me was definitely our field trip to cover race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway my junior year. 

From walking up and down pit road and in the garages talking to drivers and crew chiefs to sitting down and chatting with broadcasters and reporters from FOX Sports, NBCSN, SiriusXM, and ESPN, the experience was absolutely insane

As high school kids, we had full media access to the event and were welcomed into the sport. It was incredible how willing and open everyone was to talk to us. 

One of the most surreal moments of the trip was asking NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer a question during a press conference and having him joke around with me for being in high school before finally giving me an answer. At that moment, I had gained the attention of the media room. The interaction between Bowyer and I even got featured on the homepage of NASCAR’s website.

For the rest of the weekend I had professional journalists and public relation specialists come up to me and really take notice of what I was doing at a high school level.

Without newspaper, I’d be lost when it came to career plans. ”

— Editor-in-Chief Caylee Cicero

As nerve wracking as it was to question professional athletes and ask questions at press conferences, all navigate the massive infield of Talladega, I was oddly comfortable. I may not have been a reporter for ESPN, but I promise you I knew just as much about NASCAR and what was going on as they did. This gave me the confidence to take full advantage of the weekend and talk to literally anyone I could and write as much as possible. 

I thought I knew I wanted to go into public relations and that weekend only confirmed it. I knew I wanted to be at the track every weekend. I knew that’s what I was good at and that’s where I belonged. With that in mind, I’m more than motivated to work toward a career in PR ideally working for a race team. 

I owe so much to the Prowler, Starr’s Mill, and to Spencer for helping me make use of the talent I have and discover my passion for writing and telling other people’s stories. Without newspaper, I’d be lost when it came to career plans. 

My biggest advice to underclassmen is just to take advantage of the opportunities you are given. The Prowler provided such an excellent outlet to myself and the rest of our staff that I will forever be grateful.