The Life of a Storyteller

by Jonathan Pappalardo ’10

I walked into the ceremony racing against the clock. The usher handed me a program and I found a seat close to the front. I opened my notebook to a blank page and began to write feverishly as speaker after speaker honored the fallen and shared their personal stories with the room of onlookers. I bolted out of there as soon as I could, rushing home to my laptop. In under an hour, I wrote up what I had just observed and hit send. When the Duxbury Clipper hit newsstands and mailboxes two days later, I was stunned to see my words above the fold on the front page for the first time ever.

It was Memorial Day 2017 and I was tasked with covering the annual service at our local church. The last time I had to turn a story around so quickly was eight years earlier at Colby-Sawyer when President Tom Galligan invited the newspaper staff to his house for a reception. The lively conversation was the basis for my article, which also made the front page.

Truth be told, I never thought I would grow up to be a writer. I came of age in Hingham, Mass., as an only child obsessed with country music and the radio station that played it, 99.5 WBCS, which is now 102.5 WKLB. It was the only station I let play in the car and I would listen for hours, especially on the long road trips to our family’s townhome in Bretton Woods, N.H. I honestly thought I would one day be a disc jockey. I even coveted the 10 a.m.-2 p.m. midday shift, which I thought was the perfect time of day to be on the air.

I followed my love of radio to Colby-Sawyer, which I chose for its idyllic location, small size and undeniable sense of community. I majored in communication studies and minored in writing. Colby-Sawyer had a radio station, 90.9 WSCS, and first-year students were allowed to have their own radio show. I hosted a two-hour country music show for each semester and one summer I was there. I also wrote for the student newspaper, The Courier. Behind the scenes, I joined the board of directors at WSCS, where I assumed the role of news director and eventually became station manager. At The Courier I ultimately became news editor, a role I held concurrently with my duties as a news reporter.

While at Colby-Sawyer, I fell in love with audio editing and completed two internships, one in the music archives department at Boston’s local National Public Radio affiliate, GBH, and another in the newsroom at WBZ NewsRadio 1030. I grew leaps and bounds as a writer and reporter and attended a journalism conference at The New York Times in Manhattan. I came of age under the expert guidance of both Colby-Sawyer professors Hester Fuller and Donna Berghorn, who gave me the tools and hands-on experience that have made my professional life possible.

When I graduated in May 2010, I had no idea what I wanted to do. After I took a holiday to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, a friend scored me an interview at 95.9 WATD, the full-service radio station practically in my backyard. It offers award-winning news coverage plus music and informational programing and has been in continuous operation since the late 1970s. I was put in touch with Rob Hakala, who needed someone to assist with his daily talk and cultural show The South Shore’s Morning News, the station’s flagship program. I jumped at the chance to help out any way I could.

For the next ten years, I assisted Rob and his co-host Lisa Azizian, who became my supervisor and mentor, by pulling audio of show segments and interviews, editing it and sending it off to clients and featured guests. I posted interviews to the website, shared links on social media, manned the telephones for multiple auctions and attended many live remote broadcasts. I wasn’t on the air, but I was certainly close enough to the action. As time went on, I went from assistant to producer.

At the same time, I never forgot what Professor Ambrose “MB” Metzegen said in my Writing About the Arts class. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of you can’t just blindly love something. You have to think critically about it, too. In 2009, I taught myself how to use WordPress and started my own blog as a place to practice writing and editing. I covered a myriad of subjects, including topical commentary and, of course, country music. Over time, I grew a small following within the country music blogging community, which was in its heyday then, and my album and concert reviews impressed a fellow writer so much he personally invited me to join the staff of his blog full time.

I began writing for My Kind of Country in 2011, and over the course of the next eight years, I contributed one to two — and often more — posts a week ranging from reviews of current and classic albums, singles and concerts to awards predictions and commentary. We closed up shop for good in 2019.

With little supervision, I ran with the opportunity far beyond anyone else on the staff, which consisted of me plus three other writers from the United States and a writer from England. I fostered relationships with record companies and publicists to get advanced music I would review the week of release. I monitored country music news like my life depended on it. I shared what I was writing via social media and had artists reprint my album and concert reviews on their websites and post links to them on their Facebook pages.

In 2017, I answered an ad looking for writers in the Duxbury Clipper, my local independent paper that has been in continuous circulation since 1950. I went to the interview with a giant stack of Courier newspapers, my only appropriate writing clips at the time, and I was hired on the spot. The editor began assigning me stories straight away. For the next three years, I was immersed in local government, covering planning board, zoning board, finance committee and a myriad of other meetings. I fought to branch out and began covering events at our local senior center and library. I wrote feature stories and even covered local Americana and folk concerts in town.

I brought all my experience to the position. Just like with My Kind of Country, I ran with it and built relationships with everyone I could. The more people I knew, like the media coordinator at the senior center or the director at the library, the more varied stories I could write. I was even able to cross-pollinate with WATD, as many of the people I was interviewing were also appropriate to have as guests on The South Shore Morning News.

Around this time, then-President Tom Galligan invited me to join Colby-Sawyer’s Board of Trustees in a younger alumni role. I was excited yet scared, as I didn’t know what to expect. Being on the board was one of the most profound and enlightening experiences of my life. I grew tremendously as a person and learned how to think objectively about people in relation to their job performance. This came in handy as I was on the board during the presidential transition from Tom to Sue Stuebner. I attended dinners and open meetings with candidates, whom I then evaluated for the job. I was even in the room for the final vote. It was a fascinating process to witness firsthand. I’ve since joined PAAC, the President’s Alumni Advisory Council, and have gotten to see Colby-Sawyer from that perspective, too.

I was cooking with gas until the pandemic hit and my professional life came to a screeching halt.

My writing career, the one I never imagined for myself, has now been on pause for the last two-and-a-half years, and honestly, all I’ve felt is relief. When Covid hit, I was, and still am, exhausted from reporting for The Clipper. I’m bone tired of writing from home, alone, isolated from daily in-person interactions with co-workers and colleagues.

I feel the most like myself when I’m feeding my zest for life. I live to explore places I’ve never been by seeing what there is to see, doing whatever there is to do and eating whatever there is to eat.

Travel, arts, culture, food and wine define me at my very core. I was born without the ability to smell so this doesn’t make any logical sense whatsoever, but the wine and tight-knit community of Napa Valley has completely stolen my heart. I visit there at least once a year and my parents and I have made many close friends among the winemakers, winery owners and hospitality professionals who call the region home. We typically visit for WineaPAWlooza, a wine auction benefiting Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, which was founded by two of our dear friends.

As much as I love wine and its ability to bring people together, I’ve come to realize I’m not whole unless I have an abundance of arts and culture in my life. I’ve always prided myself on not missing a single theater performance while I was at Colby-Sawyer, but in my real life, I let my love for the stage lapse for many years. I recommitted in 2019 and have since seen ten major productions, and counting, including six on Broadway. I love television and hardly ever miss the latest buzzy show, and I still attend a healthy number of concerts each year.

As I think about my life to date (I’ll be 35 on New Years’ Eve), the throughline has always been storytelling, whether it comes from my favorite country songs, the theater productions and television shows that feed my soul or my own pen as a reporter. I’ve always been intensely curious about the stories behind things, like the people who made that bottle of wine or how that actor got cast in that role. I just love stories in any form.

I honestly don’t know the full scope of what’s out there, so looking ahead, I can’t picture what my next professional act looks like. I’m dying to branch out from writing and find a fresh and exciting in-person position that brings my skills, experience and passions together so I’m not compromising in any aspect of my life. New York City has stolen my heart as much as Napa Valley, and I know other places will too as I continue my soul-enriching journey of self-exploration.

I know for sure I’m a writer. I’ll never be able to run away from it entirely, even if I want to. It’s in my blood and has been since my Colby-Sawyer days. I remember panicking when Tom Kealy, my Writing for Publication professor, said I had to have a published piece before I could pass the class. It was my final hurdle before I could graduate. The boy who scrambled to write an op-ed for the Concord Monitor couldn’t possibly have known he would have his own professional writing website bursting with published works just ten years later. I know I’ll land on my feet because I have to, even if it seems improbable at the moment.

To connect with Jonathan and to read his writing, check out his website:

 Colby-Sawyer College
541 Main St., New London, NH
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