MONIQUE BATSON — Career in journalism started with one odd choice, but ended up in serendipitous circle

Published 12:05 am Friday, December 10, 2021

So often people ask me if I know Roger Cowles.

And more than likely, most of you already know who that is. But for the handful who do not, Roger was the editor of The Port Arthur News for 24 years, including when I was in high school with no clue what I was going to do with my life once I graduated.

At the end of our sophomore year, we were picking courses for the following year and I needed one more elective. My best friend had picked Intro to Journalism, so as a 16-year-old does, I opted to take the class too, just so I could hang with her.

On our first day, Mrs. Regina Cowles introduced herself as the journalism instructor, but also the wife of Port Arthur News Editor Roger Cowles. I learned then that The Port Arthur News printed our school newspapers. But this was only Intro to Journalism, so we started slow. And I was starting with no expectations other than sitting next to my best friend for credit.

For our first assignment, Mrs. Cowles paired us with people in the class we didn’t know and had us interview each other, write a paper on them, and then — gasp — read it out loud.

(While I talk a lot, speaking in front of large crowds is not for me.)

I wrote my paper on a girl named Stacy, doing my best to tell her story in just enough words but not too many.

Writing had always been a passion of mine. In middle and high school I would spend my evenings reading or creating characters and backstories for a novel I’d yet to plan out. I just enjoyed creating people — naming them, giving them a history, detailing their likes and dislikes, explaining their idiosyncrasies, etc. But I never made it past that point.

I loved fiction. I didn’t read anything based on reality.

But on that day I read my interpretation of Stacy with its adverbs and adjectives, and as soon as I was done it took only one second for Mrs. Cowles to stop and say, “You’re a newspaper writer.”

And then she moved on. But I did not.

Her words gave me something I’d been missing, I just didn’t know it then.

It was still my junior year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had walked into the room to get something when I found her crying. When she saw me, she wiped her eyes, blamed it on something like allergies and stopped what she was doing to help me.

After that, we stopped what we were doing to help her.

From then on, we started organizing fundraisers to help pay for treatment.

My senior year I filled my electives with newspaper, yearbook and broadcast journalism. Not only was she the most down-to-earth teacher I’d ever had, but I saw possibility in what she had to share. She was the type of person who made sure we did our work and always told us the brutal truth. But she also let us write on the walls; and when we left campus for lunch (we had passes to leave campus), we learned to bring her back a Happy Meal with a burger that had just mustard and onions minus the ketchup, and to grab ketchup packets. That’s how she ensured her burger was made fresh, but we just liked bringing her the toys. She always treated each like it was a Christmas present.

Mrs. Cowles passed away four months after I graduated from high school. And almost exactly one year later to the day, I started as a reporter for a weekly newspaper, setting a now-21-year career on its path.

It’s odd how someone who was so against non-fiction has become a proponent of the truth. But I now know Mrs. Cowles could have changed anyone’s mind.

While she’s been gone more than 20 years, I often wonder what she would think if she saw me now. Not only did I become the newspaper writer she predicted, but I eventually became a successor of her husband. And, the first woman in The Port Arthur News’ 124 years to do so.

I imagine she’s in a special place filled with Happy Meal toys and Furbies, watching with pride as she keeps up with every student whose future she changed.

 

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor and can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.