Norman has always been a home away from home.

My family attended several games in the 1985 national championship season when my sister, Cindy, was in the Pride of Oklahoma. I instantly fell in love with the game day atmosphere of the well-educated college town.

Growing up in Enid, I attended the University of Oklahoma and forged a lifelong identity as a Sooner. And that’s not just because my great-great grandfather made the Cherokee Strip Land Run in 1893. I would graduate from OU 100 years later.

I followed Lydell Carr from featured Enid High School tailback into becoming a college fullback for OU. I saw Troy Aikman break his leg against Miami, ushering in the Jamelle Holieway era.

In contrast to that magical season, my career at The Norman Transcript began in 1996 during the ill-fated John Blake era. The Sooners started 0-4, leading me to do a story on the five stages of grief.

Sooner pride was not happening that year. I remember we published a cutout image of a fan wearing a paper sack, a la “The Unknown Comic,” to run with the news story.

My career as a newsroom manager began by leaving Norman. Rocked by 9/11 as the new father of a baby girl, I wanted to make a more meaningful difference as a journalist.

In 2002, I left The Transcript to lead my own newsroom. After two years at The Edmond Sun, I became editor-in-chief at Oklahoma Gazette until returning in 2012 to work for my hometown paper, the Enid News & Eagle.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was good to have a job (or two). I’ve worked with Norman’s previous editors through the years. After filling in as interim editor, I was named the full-time editor in Norman in June. That was in addition to still serving as executive editor of my hometown Enid News & Eagle, Etown magazine, regional editor for CNHI Oklahoma and editor of its Capitol Bureau.

It’s been a whirlwind year. It reminds me of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction.

During the summer, we didn’t know if OU would be playing football. Now the Sooners are playing in the Cotton Bowl.

A season ticket holder since 1999, I managed to go to the home games this year. Sitting in the socially distanced stands, I felt oddly detached with The Pride not playing on Owen Field.

Since the pandemic, our COVID-colored coverage started with the shutdown and endured virtual learning in common and higher education.

Don’t forget coverage on the public safety debate, the social justice movement and a contentious election year.

Serving as dual editor in Enid and Norman, it was a tale of two cities. Masks were mandated early on in Norman last July, while Enid finally passed a mandate on a third attempt in December.

Ironically, both cities have efforts underway to recall city officials in part because of the mask issue.

Like I said, it’s been a whirlwind year filled with news. But now it’s time for a new chapter.

In November, I interviewed for a full-time position with a new collaborative journalism project involving news organizations throughout Oklahoma.

On Dec. 10, I accepted a new job as project manager of the Oklahoma Media Center starting in 2021. I’m eager to work with member news organizations throughout the state to build trust and find common ground for future collaborative journalism efforts.

After working for decades in the for-profit publishing industry, I’m turning the page into the purpose-driven realm of nonprofit journalism. Through this new endeavor, I hope to help sustain the ecosystem of a free, independent press.

I’d like to thank the past and present staff members for working with me in newsrooms over the years. I deeply appreciate all of your hard work in this important industry, and I look forward to working with you through the Oklahoma Media Center.

Finally, I hope our readers won’t take community journalism for granted. After all, journalists seek to report the truth and serve as a watchdog and guide dog for the interests of readers in our republic.

 Collins is Sooner born and Sooner bred.

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