When I first accepted this job and moved from Atlanta to Plant City, I didn’t know what to expect.
Like many of my colleagues, being a part of a startup paper was both exciting and scary.
The opportunity was great, but the transition was one of the most significant of my life.
Gone was the big city, long commutes and people everywhere you turn. I left a lot in Atlanta — most significantly my family and core group of friends.
Plant City reminded me of my college town of Statesboro, Ga. There were plenty of differences, namely the 20,000 college students, but the two towns have many similarities. This brought a comfort over me.
Moving can be a stressful and unnerving thing, and other than my five years in the comfort of my college bubble, I had never been away from home.
I always said I wanted to move out of Georgia, where I spent my previous 25 years, but when the reality set in, it was terrifying. Other than my girlfriend of four years, Amanda, in Orlando, and her family, everything was new.
Now, as I leave the Plant City Times & Observer after 18 months of living and working in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, I can say that the move was worth it.
I grew not only as a journalist but also as a person, which is more than you can ask for with any job.
My career now takes me to Orlando for another important transition period in my life. For the past five-and-one-half years — three-and-one-half on a full-time basis — I have covered high school sports in Georgia and Florida. Now, I’ll be working a desk job as an online producer for the Orlando Sentinel.
It’s human nature to struggle with change. Like moving to Florida, changing roles from nights on the sidelines to days behind a desk are daunting, but if this job has taught me one thing, it’s that, sometimes, you have step outside of your comfort zone.
I did that throughout my time at the Plant City Times & Observer. Before, my only exposure to pageants was the TV show “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Now, I can say I have covered not one, not two but three pageants, including the famous Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Pageant.
I had never heard of the Florida Strawberry Festival before my interview with the Observer, but after spending nearly every day covering the annual festival, it truly is a sight to see.
The fact that people come from all over the country and even the world amazes me, but as I’ve come to find out, it’s not the festival that defines Plant City — it’s the people.
One of the great things about this job is meeting people and hearing their stories. The privilege learning more about some people in a 30-minute interview than their friends may know truly is special.
Working for a community paper, I’ve had the opportunity not only to cover local teams but also to get to know the players and coaches who define those teams.
When reactions changed from, “Who is that guy with the camera?” to, “Hey Matt, take a picture of me and make sure it gets in the Observer,” I knew we had accomplished our primary goal. We wanted to be Plant City’s hometown newspaper, and in just one year, we accomplished just that.
People in Plant City love their local sports, and it has been a honor to provide them with the most complete coverage they have ever had.
Although the torch has been passed to new Staff Writer Justin Kline, readers can expect the same great in-depth coverage of local high school teams and youth sports.
I have been able to share some wonderful stories in my time here. It has been a privilege.
And, I know there are plenty more great stories ahead.
Thank you for your amazing support, and thank you for sharing your lives with me and the Plant City Times & Observer.