My first byline and 4-H
By Sarah Einselen
My first byline came when I was nine and a half years old. It was a short article. The newsprint rectangle is still glued to an old piece of scrapbook paper at home, yellowed but displaying that “By Sarah Einselen” in bold print at the top. I nearly burst with pride the day it appeared in the Ontario weekly newspaper, the Tribune-Courier.
That was the summer of 1999. I had written a summary of what my 4-H club had done that year, a simple story to go along with our “Fantastic 4-H’ers” annual group picture. About a year and a half later, I convinced my fellow 4-H club members to let me write about them all year as the official club news reporter.
The other 4-H’ers gave me that privilege again in 2003, in 2004 and in 2007. That last year, I was 17 and I knew what I was going to do in college.
4-H isn’t just about animals and sweltering days at the county fair. In my ten years as a 4-H member, I never once raised an animal to show at the fair—you couldn’t have farm animals within city limits, and I didn’t want any. What I did, instead, was give a health-and-safety talk and a demonstration every year and take sewing, cooking, writing and photography projects.
That meant my club adviser handed out slim how-to books published by the Ohio State University Extension about whatever it was I thought I could learn. Then I had to give a short speech about some aspect of health or safety, right up there in front of all my fellow 4-H’ers. (There were only about fifteen or twenty all together, but it was still nerve-wracking.) Later each year I’d prepare a longer, how-to speech related to one of my projects.
Those projects, plus my mother’s help, taught me to sew, or cook or write or take good photographs. That’s all a project was—following the directions, adding in some of your own creativity and showing off for the project judge every summer.
At least, that’s what I thought.
They say hindsight’s 20/20. I wouldn’t know; I’ve worn glasses since I was 15. But now that I’ve “grown up” past the 4-H program’s age limit, I can tell you five ways all those 4-H projects helped me become a better journalist and person.
One, I don’t procrastinate—or not much, anyway. The first couple of years that I was in 4-H, I’d lose at least two hours of sleep the night before project judging because I was worrying I wouldn’t get the project done in time. I had put it off and put it off, so it was, oh, maybe two-thirds done, with a few hours left the next morning to finish it. I’d climb out of bed, find my mom and cry at her, worried child that I was. She always told me it would be all right.
It always was. But that night before was never pleasant. After a few times I figured out the secret: If you do it early, no stress! That trick served me especially well in college.
Two, I’m not afraid of interviews. Those 4-H project judges weren’t mean or “out to get you,” so I learned that most other interviewers aren’t, either. I feel more comfortable during interviews because of that—or maybe because I’ve been through so many. It must have helped. Since starting college, I’ve interviewed for six jobs and gotten five of them.
Three, I understand parliamentary procedure—you know, when people say “I move…” in meetings and aren’t physically going anywhere. It’s standard 4-H practice to run meetings “by the book,” complete with secretary’s minutes, treasurer’s reports and old and new business.
4-H taught me years ago what agendas were and how to make a proper motion. Now that I’m a “grown-up” reporter, it’s helped tremendously when I’m covering any sort of meeting. I suspect it will come in handy too, someday, when I decide to serve on a board or committee myself.
Four, I can write a speech and deliver it with confidence. Don’t get me wrong—I still get jittery right before getting onstage for anything. But it’s easier to do it now, and I’m sure it’s because I’ve had to do it so many times at 4-H meetings and in public speaking contests.
Five, I can write about what’s news. 4-H gave me the opportunity to test out journalism and to learn how it’s done. I had what I termed “real” news to write about and a judge to tell me how I could do it better. I’ve kept the letter one judge wrote praising my clear writing and eye for good news photos. The news reporting projects are how I realized that I loved journalism.
This is only my story. 4-H has changed other grown-up children in different ways. But this former nine-year-old has followed that first byline with pounds more of newsprint.
I love what I do. And 4-H helped me discover it.