But there was something else, too — a love of writing and the memory of how much her father had hated his own job. Connie Schultz knew she didn’t want to feel that way about her career.
She knew — from her days as a student journalist at Kent State University and years afterward as a freelancer — she could make a living as a journalist. So, as a 36-year-old single mother of two, she pushed through the fear and took the job as a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter.
Now, countless stories and a Pulitzer prize later, Schultz is a nationally syndicated columnist, regular contributor to Parade magazine, published memoirist and soon-to-be novelist.
On Thursday, Jacksonville State University students and local residents will have an opportunity to hear Schultz speak for this year’s Ayers Lecture.
The Ayers Lecture Series began in 1988 as a collaboration between JSU and The Anniston Star to bring esteemed journalists to the area.
At least some of Schultz’ discussion will focus on changes in the news industry.
“Everybody’s afraid of what’s going to happen to the industry,” she said. “Fear can paralyze you, or it can get the adrenaline rushing.”
Schultz’ own life may well be an example of the latter. The daughter of working-class parents, Schultz was the first person in her family to go to college.
It was there, as a writer for the school paper, she caught the journalism bug. As a Kent State student five years after the shootings of unarmed students by the Ohio National Guard, Schultz covered big topics on a campus that was still garnering attention from media outlets all over the country.
The exposure landed her stringer assignments for The New York Times, she said. It didn’t hurt that she was good at writing and great at getting quotes.
“I always looked harmless; it worked well in getting interviews,” she admitted. “People would tell me things; people would talk to me … and people would wonder how I got that quote.”
Schultz’ affinity for the job and her dedication to it suited her well during her freelancing days as a young mother and in the early 1990s when she signed on full-time at The Plain Dealer.
A 2002 series on Michael Green, a man who served 13 years in prison on a wrongful rape conviction, earned Schultz a spot as a Pulitzer finalist, a prize she’d eventually win in 2005 for column writing.
It was a big story with a big impact — one that gained Schultz more national media attention and convinced the real rapist to turn himself over to police after he read the series.
The “Burden of Innocence” series has stuck with Schultz throughout the years and is just one example of her mission as a journalist and columnist.
“The stories I love to tell are stories of people you might not know about if we weren’t otherwise writing about them,” Schultz said.
Indeed, she aims to tell the stories of the working class, the poor, the disenfranchised and unrepresented. And she’s managed to do this while living her own full life as a mother and, since 2004, wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Brown was a congressman at the time the couple married.
Anniston Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers calls Schultz’ legacy as both a practitioner of journalism and a front-seat observer to Sherrod’s campaigns “a wonderful combination.”
“I’m just delighted she’s coming,” said Ayers, who will introduce Schultz at the Thursday event. “I think it’s exciting for students to be engaged with the real pros, and I think it’s interesting for the community to have celebrated journalists come to town and give us their views.”
The lecture series honors Ayers’ parents, Harry M. and Edel Y. Ayers.
Connie Schultz will speak at 1:30 p.m. Thursday on the 11th floor of the Houston Cole Library. The lecture is free and open to the public.