A different time, a different swipe file

My original “swipe file” from 1998-ish.

In August, as I prepared to move across town, I hauled a few things to my parents’ house for storage. It turns out I probably owe my parents an apology for using their house like a storage unit, stashing stuff I insist I need to hang onto, only to leave behind in a closet or in the basement of my childhood home for years and years. The stuff that was so important I completely forget it even existed.


When I brought a carload of totes and boxes to my parents’ house this summer, Mom had pulled out a tote I had left behind during one of my many moves. This appeared to be from the time I left college and started working part-time in both Portland and Augusta. I lived at Mom and Dad’s house during that stretch in 1998-99 and apparently had some serious hoarding tendencies.

The tote was full of magazines, newspapers and a couple of T-shirts. I spent 10 or 15 minutes rummaging through those old Sports Illustrated with Michael Jordan on the cover, and those old newspapers from Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s chase at Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. All of them ended up in the bin at the local recycling center. It was a fun 15 minutes looking at that old stuff, but that tote had sat in the closest for almost  20 years, I wouldn’t miss it if I threw it all out.

What I didn’t throw out was two file folders. One was full of old stories I had written for journalism classes during my days as a student at the University of Maine, the other full of newspaper clippings, pages photocopied out of magazines and printouts from the news wire.

Among the clips in that file is: a handful of yellowed newspaper clippings from the Boston Globe – columns by Bob Ryan, Michael Holley and Dan Shaughnessy; a Sporting News column by Dave Kindred about taking his mom to a St. Louis Cardinals game; multiple Sports Illustrated back page columns by Rick Reilly; a USA Today editorial on why it is OK for college athletes to leave early for the pros; an SI feature on high school basketball star Richard Jefferson (wow, I’m old, Jefferson has been in the NBA for 17 seasons).

That file folder represents a different time in my life. I was fresh out of college, where I studied journalism. I had spent three years working at the Maine Campus, covering University of Maine sports, including two years as the Sports editor. I wanted to write the type of stories I was clipping and putting away in the file folder.

When I started the folder, I was working part-time at a couple of newspapers, taking phones calls, writing up high school and college games, typing in agate and editing copy. Some days I would design pages, some days I would get the chance to cover a game.

I started that file for inspiration and to learn. I clipped those stories because I thought they were well written, great ideas and execution. I hadn’t heard of the concept back then, but it was what Austin Kleon calls a “swipe file.”

That file represents what I wanted to be. I got into the business to cover sports. To be a reporter. I figured out in high school (but didn’t want to admit) I wasn’t going to be the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, or even the University of Maine, at any point in my life. Luckily, after my English teacher Mrs. Edwards read lord knows how many essays I wrote about sports, she suggested I pursue a career in sports journalism. The thought had never crossed my mind and it made perfect sense.

And I pursued that career. I got a job covering local sports. Writing and reporting stories was my day job for the parts of 16 years (I was first a copy editor who occasionally wrote, then a full-time reporter, then a manager who occasionally wrote).

It turns out, that isn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Yeah, sometimes I miss being out in the field, covering games and hearing people’s stories, and I definitely miss writing those stories. I do not miss the daily grind of churning out story after story and I definitely don’t miss having to be in the public eye, talking to everyone, trying to get them to talk to me, sometimes about stuff they don’t want to talk about. I’m an introvert, not exactly a great personality for a reporter.

Yes, my reporting days are over, but I still look at the “swipe file” fondly, not only because I had the chance to read some really good copy (newspaper talk for words, stories) but because it reminds me of a time I was chasing that dream. My dreams are different now. My day job is still in the newspaper biz, but I’m on the copy desk. I’m a copy editor and a page designer. My swipe file is full of newspage designs, illustrations and graphics.

And that swipe file is mostly digital, which is good news for Mom and Dad. I won’t be asking them to store it at their house the next time I move.

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