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.
I’m sorry to hear you’ve lost you job, but you will bounce back soon enough! Like you said – you’re multi talented! Who wouldn’t want you?!
Have you considered looking into TV news? My mom’s husband does the teleprompter and cameras… but I bet you could do some reporting (online or onscreen) or even producing!
Good luck on your job hunt, and hopefully you get some freelance opportunities in the meantime…. and get plenty of caching time in ;-P
on an unrelated note. Besides your template did you change something on your blog? I can finnnnnalllly see your posts in my reader (for a while there it was only the title)!
There is such a loss in the local newspaper for sure.. For those who haven’t been able to read your writing, read your sports articles and knowing that you have gotten the awards…
I am bias for sure, but I know that your going to land on your feet somewhere nice and realize that it was all for the better….
And let me know if you need anything you know where to get ahold of us….
As a newspaperwoman, I feel your pain – especially when I’ve just learnt tonight that my own department is to be disbanded.
Personally, I think it’s sad that the next generation won’t be exposed to that stereotypical image of hard-drinking, chain-smoking beat reporter unless it’s in an old movie … but on the other hand – as you’re proving with this blog – the opportunities online now for our breed are almost endless.
And who else will clean up all that bad spelling and grammar if we don’t?
Meanwhile, though, you’ll at least have plenty of time for geocaching.
Erika: Hopefully, I will bounce back. It’s not an easy thing though. Never been through this, so it’s all new to me. I’m not a TV news sort of guy and many of them get paid even lower than print, which is kind of amazing. At least on the low levels.
And nope — didn’t change anything. Just the template. Maybe that did something with the RSS feed.
Joe — though you are biased, I appreciate the thoughts. Will let you know if anything is needed.
kjwx: Sorry to hear your department is being disbanded. Newspapers are in the fight for their lives and I don’t know if its one they can win. It’s not even the stereotype that the next generation won’t know, it’s the feel of the paper in your hands, the sound of a press… everything.
There will be some caching, for sure. Though this snow is bothersome. How come, if this had to happen, it couldn’t have happened when it was warm out?
Sorry to hear about the job. I hope opportunity comes knocking soon. I’m sure it is difficult, but keep your head up and keep moving on. Nick
Man, P.J., did I relate to several things you wrote here. What happened is, indeed, doubly disheartening, because I’m sorry for what you’re going through personally, and because it’s indicative of just how much of a severely losing battle newspapers are fighting.
(I remember Cary and how much I loved to hear his old-school “Brunswick” when he answered the newsroom phone? Even the smallest details of what makes a newspaperman are tough to see go.)
And “noble profession” is right. So much work goes in, and it goes in on holidays, and before and after you were supposed to go home, and with the clock ticking in your ear. And the versatility, as you mentioned, that you developed, and that I think you have to take on in order to be truly effective? I’m without words to adequately convey it. But that you managed to do all of that and keep up good humor in the newsroom is a real testament to your character, for sure.
The good news is that it BEYOND arms you for whatever other jobs you take on. And most importantly, I think, relationships with and memories of newsroom comrades, as well as everything you accomplished, and the effects that those things had, will stay with you for the long haul. Regardless of what direction it takes.
It all may be of little comfort with how much I’m sure things suck right now, but hang in there. I’ve got no doubt that everything will work out for you.
very very sorry to read your news 🙁
I’ve been made redundant myself, and it’s a horrible shock to the system
I hope that you can find another job soon that you love as much as you evidently loved the job that you have lost 🙁
Many of the things you wrote about in this post struck a chord with me. In a somewhat similar industry (printing), I have experienced what you are going through on more than one occasion. I remember my first layoff, and at that time, we had a 2 year old, and my wife was 8 months along with our second child. I was the only one working. It was a tough time back in 1987. Financially, it hurt us bad – but my marriage strengthened, and so did my determination. I could have laid down after the second or third layoff, but that just wasn’t in me. I seriously doubt it’s in you as well. This is evident in what little exposure to your talent I have seen here on this blog.
You talk about doing it old school, with veritype, using a waxer and x-acto knives. You’re killin’ me here… that was my bread and butter back in the day. Then on to shooting negatives, tray developing them and burning plates. Seems like eons ago. No one understands that. But those are the good memories. Who’s gonna remember kerning on a PC, or burning a CD 25 years from now? Now that’s a disgrace. It’s sad to think of a bunch of programmers pounding a few beers after work talking about downloading a feed to display on an iPad. What have we become?
Your post sparked a lot of memories for me, as I worked for several newspapers over the years, but only in the pre-press area. I envied you reporters and your ability to wordsmith and take outstanding photos to capture the essence of the story.
But just as I managed to pull myself up from the “downturn in the economy”, in my heart, I know you will too. You have a multitude of things going for you that I never had. I never even got the chance to finish college – something I regret to this day. And while it’s ok to go through a type of grieving process with all this, you’ll soon find that purpose in life and your determination will rebound.
You’re right … something will come of this. It just might take some time. But if I can go from receiving the last of my unemployment checks and borrowing from relatives back in the mid to late 80’s, to having to put three kids in college (all at the same time … two of which are in the masters program), you, my friend will surely come out on top.
It’s a sad story, but you tell it well. I see the journalist in your writing, the need to get both sides of the story, no matter how difficult. Thanks for sharing the piece.
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The Six-Fingered Monkey says
I am happy to have found your blog through “Dude Write” and I can’t wait to read more and find out what you are doing now… mostly because I tell a very similar story from my first byline to finally becoming editor of my hometown newspaper… wax and exacto knives…. I know them all too well and have a killer scar on my thumb to prove it. Like you, I walked away from the sinking ship – but that was in 2001… The next decade has been a struggle, but good to me…
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Youngman Brown says
Wow, I’m so sorry that happened. It really is tough for writers out there now, especially everyone involved with the newspaper.
I love your last line about the byline of the story of your life.
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Gunmetal Geisha says
I went through a variety of emotions as I read this post: The beginning brought me back to my own school days, when one first discovers one’s good at something (for me it was getting picked for the lead in a play – Pandora in Pandora’s Box). After that I had fun going on the journey with you and learning a bit of your biography. And once you found your home with the paper, I felt the sense of peacefulness I imagine anyone who finds their place in life feels. I must’ve not registered the title, so I didn’t know what was coming. So you can guess how much as a reader I felt your letdown when you were laid off. I took note of the date too — 2011 was still in the midst everybody getting laid off everywhere, no? Both sobering and moving.
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Thanks for visiting this post. It’s one of my favorites and I knew it could bring some emotions, especially for people who either really know me or don’t know me at all. It was a crazy time in my life.