By Elise Pattison
A young blonde woman sat at her desk on a bright Friday morning, holding a coffee cup proclaiming, “Write Like a Motherf—er” and avidly describing her job. Stephanie Hayes is a beat reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and she couldn’t love her job more.
Hayes recounted her experiences as a journalist, including both comical stories such as a faux college visit poster about Kim Kardashian and sober stories such as the 350 obituary features she wrote in one year.
Hayes reported that although journalism could be fun, it is also extremely challenging in a variety of areas. “You kind of have to know how to do everything, you need to be flexible,” she told a reporter Friday. “And the nerves never go away. Most days are really uncomfortable.”
The nerves are much more manageable now for Hayes than they were when she first began at age 19 in Carrollwood. She began working as an editorial assistant (getting stamps and giving out faxes, as she described it) while going to school at SPC. Here she encountered one of her most dangerous assignments, however.
A man in a gun range “either opened fire or was holding hostages,” recounts Hayes. After hearing the news on the police scanner, Hayes’ boss looked around for someone to send and found only her.
“Somehow I got in the middle of the cordoned-off zone,” she said, “and then I started running toward the shooting range like an idiot, thinking, there is no way Darwin asked to run toward a crazy man with a gun at a shooting range,” she laughed. “This police officer was chasing me yelling, “if you take another step I’m going to take you to jail!”” So Hayes sat at a carwash for the next 8 hours waiting to get the scoop.
After finishing two years at SPC, Hayes transferred to USF and entered the journalism program while working at the TBT St. Petersburg as a regional reporter.
Here she was assigned one obituary feature each day, making for one emotionally tolling year of talking to the loved ones of those who had passed away.
This work inspired her novel, Obitchuary, which is about a reporter who accidently kills her date and then has to write his obituary.
After graduating from USF in 2006, Hayes began working here in Tampa, where she powers through the stress of deadlines and lives to see her articles printed.
“It’s a fun job.” Hayes said. “There’s a lot of stress…but when it comes down to it it’s a fun thing that keeps us coming back. You never get over that thrill of seeing your by-line in the paper.”