Tarrant County College alumnus A. Lee Graham is marking 25 years as a professional journalist. His career has taken him from North Texas to the West Coast and back, reporting for both major and community newspapers. Graham’s beats have included business, government, education, the music scene and more. His interest in the written word, however, began long before he ever drew a paycheck.
“I always loved writing, beginning with fiction as a young boy,” Graham reflects. Still, “despite a lifetime of writing, journalism never occurred to me as a career until late high school. That’s where the seed was planted.”
When Graham joined his high school newspaper staff, everything changed. He became an avid consumer of local, national and international news.
“I saw the importance of an informed populace – and the responsibility that journalists have in keeping them informed and the ‘powers that be’ in check,” he explains.
Graham plunged into the study of journalism when he enrolled at TCC, then known as Tarrant County Junior College, in the mid-eighties. Graham refined the journalism basics he learned in high school and gained a foundation for his entire career, with Professor Diane Turner taking his talent and passion to the next level.
“She had the ability to be demanding and uncompromising when it came to what she expected from her students, yet she was fun and likable at the same time,” remembers Graham. “You wanted to do well. You didn’t want to disappoint her because you respected her both as an educator and as a person.”
Turner passed away in 2009, but her legacy lives on in students like Graham, according to Eddye Gallagher, director of TCC student publications and assistant professor of journalism.
“Diane had a tremendous impact on her students,” says Gallagher. “Occasionally, I’ll see a Facebook post where one of her former students will post a comment that Diane had made years ago that is still remembered or advice that is still followed.”
Graham worked under Turner as a reporter for The Reflector, then the newspaper for South Campus. He remembers Turner’s love for journalism as “palpable.” Her guidance helped keep Graham going as he juggled college with work and other parts of his life.
“Time management is the most critical challenge a college student faces,” Graham says. “If a student can come up with a schedule and stick to it, that’s half the battle.”
During his time as a reporter for The Reflector, Graham experienced one of his most vivid news memories.
“As we were racing against deadline one day, we looked up to the newsroom television and saw the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion happen live,” recalls Graham. “I’ll never forget pulling my story out of the IBM Selectric typewriter and watching that awful cloud spread across an otherwise blue sky.”
That experience further cemented Graham’s desire to keep people informed about events that affect their lives. After completing two years at TCC, Graham transferred to Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) to continue his journalism studies. A few months before receiving his bachelor’s degree, he met with a recruiter at a job fair. Graham went on to speak to the editor of The Hemet News in Hemet, Calif., by phone and then interviewed with one of his colleagues in Texas. The Hemet News hired Graham as a reporter. He rented an apartment long distance, loaded up his car and made the trip to southern California.
After three years, Graham moved on to The Californian newspaper; his career later brought him back to Texas. Graham worked for the Las Colinas Business News, The Dallas Morning News, The Plano-Star Courier and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s suburban newspapers before joining Fort Worth Business Press in 2011.
Graham is part of a network of TCC alumni making their mark in journalism and related fields.
“We have photographers, designers, writers and editors working across Texas and the country for newspapers, television, magazines, businesses, hospitals, cities and organizations,” notes Gallagher. “Whether in design, photography or writing and whether in print, broadcast or public relations, all are using their TCC-gained knowledge and experiences.”
Graham credits his professional success to innate qualities reinforced by Professor Turner: “Discipline, focus and a willingness to work hard. Really hard.”
Read A. Lee Graham’s reports in the Fort Worth Business Press.
The Graham feature is the latest in a year-long series celebrating TCC’s 50th anniversary through the lives of its students. Follow the links below to enjoy previous features:
Sammie Sheppard, Sultan Karriem, and Erin Casey.