I had my first newspaper article (and photo) published when I was in seventh or eighth grade. It was a small story — probably eight or 10 inches — about a new teacher at my high school. It was accompanied by a blurry photo, also taken by yours truly.
The story was in a weekly paper. The day it came out, my parents purchased a couple of copies of the paper and my eyes were wide when I saw that magic byline.
It never got old.
To this day, I still get a rush and a thrill every time I see my byline attached to an article. It’s something that always makes me smile and still makes me realize what a noble profession it can be to be a journalist.
That article in seventh or eighth grade would have come somewhere around 1985-1987.
That’s about 25 years ago, pending on when it happened.
That’s how long I’ve given to newspapers. I wrote occasional things for this weekly as a junior in high school, then a senior. Late in my senior year, the bulk of the staff left the newspaper over a dispute with the publisher. I was brought in and helped put out an issue for the next two weeks. We did it old school, too. Veritype. Wax. Layout sheets. Exacto knives.
After that? Full time. I stayed with that paper through 1999. I had a blast, too. While others were working real jobs, I was being paid to go to sporting events. Take some photos. Write. Something I loved.
And that byline was there each time.
While working at the paper, I got some great freelance opportunities — with places such as the Dallas Morning News, the Boston Herald and some newspapers in the Midwest. The paydays were great. The bylines were even better.
As my 25th birthday approached, I questioned where I was going in life. So, I went back to college. What did I major in? Journalism and Mass Communications.
I worked at the school paper. I learned new things. I realized it was beneficial to be multi-talented. Just being able to write didn’t cut it at a newspaper. You needed to be able to do many things. So I learned some pagination. I honed my photography skills. I dived in and made sure I could be valuable on more than one level.
Still, following graduation, I didn’t want to hit the workforce. So I continued my education and got my master’s degree in two semesters. Again, in Journalism.
While working on that, I worked for several newspapers, doing a lot of freelancing and learning a lot more. There were some great people who taught me along the way and I just continued to get better. I interviewed for a spot at one of the papers and didn’t get it, but it was a great learning experience.
Still, I had no job. Not a lot of money. And I was graduating.
I got by that summer painting and putting some money away. As the fall came, I did something I thought I never would do — I started working as a freelancer for my home area daily. I did quite a bit of work for them, took some photos and covered games. Then came a part-time position. An opening soon came and I was hired for the full-time spot. (Note that it did take two searches before I finally got it, but it seemed to work out well).
The thing about this one, is I stuck it out in the area. I had been offered a spot at a newspaper in North Platte, Nebraska in October 2003. I turned it down for several reasons, but it all worked out.
I was offered the spot at the hometown paper, didn’t have anything to negotiate against and accepted the spot.
That was 2004.
I’ve been there ever since. I’ve won or been part of six awards. I’ve become a strong paginator, well-versed at other aspects of newspapers and become a well-rounded newspaperman. As I’ve grown, I’ve become so versatile that I have done many different aspects of the paper, including photography, pagination, front-page stories and breaking news photos. At one point, we were down someone on the copy desk. Until a former copy desker agreed to come back for a bit, I was the person who was going to be shifted to the desk to work there for a bit. I had also once been offered the chance to move to the photographer position when there was an opening, but I turned it down.
During my time at the paper, I also made some strong relationships, always tried to work well with others and with a happy outlook and did my best. I wasn’t always perfect, mind you. I had my screw ups and mess ups, but heck, who doesn’t?
It all ended Friday.
For the past three or so weeks, the newspaper had a cloud over its head. A mandatory meeting was called for Feb. 11 and so many theories were bouncing around. In the end, it was layoffs. And in a bit of shocking news, I was one of the handful of editorial staff laid off. It’s a shame for many reasons, including the fact that the sports department is now down a man permanently, and some good people are out of work.
I won’t go into a diatribe about it all here. It happened. There’s nothing I can do. I will take a week or so to let it set in, accept it and then start a job hunt. Hopefully, this will lead to better things. But for now, it stinks. I felt part of something special at this paper. Even with everything that attacks newspapers, this group has been something else. I’ve made friends I’ll hold for the rest of my life.
That doesn’t make it easier.
The worst part of all this is that this episode has made me realize that newspapers are facing the battle of their respective lives. I’m not sure how it will all end, but if the trend continues, probably not well. And that’s too bad. I’m still someone who needs to read a paper in the morning. And not the online version.
When I travel, I still buy local papers to see how they do things. And I have always read all the local stories in our paper.
I didn’t get a chance to have my formal goodbyes though, and that’s what makes this hard. I was let go in an individual meeting before anyone was at work. I’ll clean out my desk sometime when only my immediate supervisor will be there to chat and go over old times as I clean things up. And once I do that, it’ll be as if I had never been there. Washed away just like that.
Alas, though the ending is a bit sour, the whole story wasn’t bad.
I have had the opportunity to write about some wonderful things. From the obscure — such as covering one of the greatest flat-water paddler of all-time (Serge Corbin) to one-on-one interviews with such baseball greats as Michael Jack Schmidt and Ozzie Smith. I’ve covered state championships in football, soccer, softball, wrestling and track. I’ve seen record-breaking performances and last-second heroics that have ended a dream or finished off an improbable victory.
I saw Mia Hamm step into our city, be inducted to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in front of a record 5,000 fans. Just a few years later, I saw as that same Soccer Hall shut its doors and closed down because of a lack of interest.
I’ve had the chance to cover several National Baseball Hall of Fame events and induction ceremonies, including the year Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted in front of more than 75,000 fans. I saw Bob Feller — yes that Bob Feller — pitch (albeit slowly) during the first Hall of Fame Classic, a legends game that is becoming an annual event in Cooperstown.
And I covered professional baseball. Oh how that is something I’ll remember forever. I covered the short-season Single-A team for the Detroit Tigers for six years. I saw some great people come through — some of whom are at the major-league level now. It’s something I’ll always remember and cherish. It was one goal I always had — to cover pro baseball. For six summers, I had the opportunity to get paid to watch the greatest game out there. I just wish I would have had the chance to see them win a championship.
My favorite things have always been the local sports, however. From individual wrestling champions to state champs in football, I’ve had the chance to see some wonderful teams and individuals reach high levels. I’ve met colorful characters and shy youngsters, who have grown and blossomed during their high school years.
Besides all that, I’ve had the personal moments.
My first award.
My first column that I really loved.
That first page that I designed where I went “Heck yeah, that is nice.”
I’ve grown in every aspect of my career. Writing. Pagination. Editing. Photography. Proofing. I’m still not perfect, by any stretch, but I’ve improved immensely over the past seven-plus years.
I can’t thank my fellow sports people enough. The past eight months or so, we’ve become such a close group and it’s been a great ride for the whole seven years. Through thick and thin, we’ve always put out one heck of a section.
All good things come to an end, however.
I don’t know where my life will take me. I’ve started to peek around for jobs. I need a few days or so to clear my mind and let this set it. It’s the first time I’ve ever been laid off. I need to accept what happened. I need to realize what happened and move on. I’m not there yet.
I will be, though. And when I am, it’s full-steam ahead. Something will come out of this. Hopefully for the better.
It’s just one step in this big book of life. I’ll stamp my byline on it one last time, however.
Edit (June 17, 2012): This post is being used as the “classic” Dude Write Starting Lineup for the first week. Go check out more excellent posts by bloggers, who also happen to be dudes.