Journalist sees hometown through new lens

Education reporter started on school newspaper staff

Amethyst Holmes started as a reporter at Alabama's Sparkman High School and is now a reporter for, where she covers Madison County Schools.

A University of Alabama graduate employed full-time at, Amethyst Holmes may have found a way to “beat” the system with her love of journalism, dedication to hard work and love of the city and school which fostered her ability through interactive experiences and support.

The 2008 Sparkman graduate first discovered the places which writing could take her during her freshman year of high school, when her essay on “To Kill A Mockingbird” won the Harper Lee Award and a chance to meet the author herself. Later, Holmes’s interest in words prompted her to pursue a path in scholastic publication, dedicating her efforts to serving the student body through news and design.

“I took Mrs. [Erin] Coggins’s class in 10th grade, and from there, I was really comfortable with it, I really loved the class and Mrs. Coggins and the way she ran the class was very personal, and I could really relate to her in a way that was comfortable and respectful in the same breath. I got involved with The Crimson Crier as a reporter, and I was able to get the position of in-depth editor at the time,” Holmes said.

Holmes went on to work on the student-written page of the Huntsville Times, where she made connections with other local journalists and editors. After winning the Rick Bragg Award for Feature Writing and Journalist of the Year from the Alabama Scholastic Press Association during her senior year, Holmes made the decision to “tap into” her talents and carry on the passions she had developed in high school to college.

“[Amethyst] knew exactly that she was going to major in journalism when she left here. It was already in her blood to become a writer, and so Alabama was her choice and she majored in print journalism there,” journalism adviser Erin Coggins said.

Keeping her roots in mind, Holmes kept touch with the contacts she had made back home throughout college, calling upon them junior year in hopes of securing an internship at the Huntsville Times.

“I asked the editor who was over the HT page at that time, Pat Ammons, if there were any openings, because I’d been looking for something junior year to have senior year. She told me to submit my resume and email one of the editors, Shelley Haskins, who was a city editor at that time,” Holmes said. “From there, I got the call, accepted it.”

After three summers of internships and her graduation from the University of Alabama, Holmes was hired by the Huntsville Times as a reporter in 2012, and stayed on after the company merged to become exclusively part of In 2013, she was offered a leading position on the “education beat,” a category of news specifically focused on the educational goings-on of Madison County, including school activities, delays and changes in policy.

“I’ve been educated through these systems, here, in Madison County. And I’ve got people behind me who’ve been covering education for a long time,” Holmes said. “It’s an exciting beat and a fun beat, because you get to interact with kids and students. It’s a lot to take in, but I’m really excited to get my feet on the ground.”

The creativity necessary to draw an audience is a pleasant challenge for Holmes, as well, putting her years of training and experience to work in a subject that she hopes to expand and put a new spin on in the future.

“That’s the beauty of being handed a beat. You get to see what you can do with it. Of course you have your bread-and-butter stories within a beat, but you can feel free to put your flair to it, remix it, show your style of reporting, so I’ll try to put my personality into it. That’s what makes it stand out, and what makes people gravitate toward it. I’m hoping to put my own flair on it, whether that’s digital media or social engagement,” Holmes said.

Holmes credits her success, in part, to the foundation that she established in high school, and the classes that helped her develop as a writer and a journalist seeking a possible future career with hands-on experience and guidance.

“[Sparkman has] a stellar program over there… It’s really a testament to what high school programs and secondary and primary programs can do for students. Without that program, I wouldn’t be sitting here, talking about alumni and being in a real newsroom. It’s definitely a plus that you guys have so much access and that you guys are getting out there and practicing what it is you want to do,” Holmes said.

And Holmes is not alone; Coggins says that at least one student every year seriously considers pursuing a journalism or communications degree in college, some going on, like Holmes, to make a career of the writing or design they began in high school.

“I think Sparkman High School’s journalism program is like a forerunner. I’ve had so many former students come back and say, ‘I was the only one in my class that knew what Associated Press was, so when I had to do that quiz, I knew exactly what it was.’ We do real stories, whereas other programs sometimes do frivolous stuff, so I just consider it a forerunner to college,” Coggins said.

But, as much as Holmes enjoys following where the stories lead, she finds the connection with her past just as important to her career, inspiration and curiosity combining to fuel her quest for “doing great work” and serving the city in which she found her niche.

“It’s been a cool transition, being able to work and experience the places you’ve grown up. I can see it all through a whole new lens and be more aware of the city I’ve grown up in, that’s raised me,” Holmes said. “It’s eye-opening and exciting. It’s been a dream job really, to be able to give back to the community that gave so much to you.”

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