Monthly Archives: March 2013

Who wants yesterday’s papers? (Getting out of the newspaper business)

burning press card

So, a big event just happened in my life. Yesterday was my last day in the newspaper business. I’m not just leaving the newspaper I worked for, I’m getting out of the business. The future is a little scary, but I feel very free. I thought I might feel more melancholy, but I don’t. I’m mostly excited.

There should be some kind of ceremony for people who leave journalism. Something like a baptism. The closest thing I could think of was to burn my press card – just to show that I’m serious. I’m not going back. Journalism isn’t just something you do, it’s something you ARE.┬áIt’ll be great to make a bit more money and have more time for things I want to do. It’s time. To make another religious comparison, it feels like reincarnation. I’m moving to another life, becoming a different person.

I’ve worked for newspapers most of my adult life, more than 22 years. It’s been a great adventure. I made a lot of friends and a lot of memories, but I also worked hard for not very much money, had to work weekends, nights and some holidays, had periods of great stress and loneliness. It was all worth it. I feel like I did something important. I’m just ready to move on and do something different.

Some of the things that happened during my years in the business that will always stand out in my mind:

Interviewing a wily but very entertaining conman in Marlin, Texas named Big Shot Plunkett who was being charged in some kind of check kiting scheme. I was grilling him with some tough questions. “Didn’t you know there was no money in that account when you wrote the check?” His answer, “I can make a check good anytime I want to. Listen, did you ever write a check on the day before payday?” I admitted that yes, I had. “Same thing,” he said. I guess he had me on that one, lol.

Writing about Werner Seitz, the German pilot who flew an experimental aircraft at the end of WWII. He had spent years in America after the war and ended up in my town. An old B-29 pilot tracked him down and arranged for me to meet him. Interesting to see the two men together – friendly, but they didn’t really like each other, still.

Covering the ’98 flood in Gonzales, Texas, getting into water that was rising way too fast, trying to help some guys who wanted to rescue an old woman using water hoses as a rope. Luckily some guys came along with a utility truck who knew what they were doing and got her out, so I didn’t drown. Got a hell of a picture of the rescue.

Working on a story in a small Texas town and almost got evicted because I pissed off a local politician. I managed to politic my way out of it and publish my story. That was exciting.

Covering a story in Leander about a popular assistant principal who burned himself up in his house after getting caught in a compromising situation with a student. That was sooooo shocking and upsetting.

Oh yeah, the “Loch Ness monster” we pulled in Marlin for April Fool’s Day. That was a blast. With a rubber dinosaur and black-and-white darkroom and NO Photoshop because we didn’t have it yet, we managed to make half the town think there was a sea monster in the local lake. I never laughed so hard.

So many memories. Some are of mundane things, but things only old time newspaper guys would know about — developing negatives and prints in the darkroom, converting photographs into half-tones, placing and cutting border tape around pictures and ads, printing headlines and strips of copy out of a machine (It smelled like feet), waxing them and piecing them together on the blue-lined layout sheets, running the racks and counting the quarters, office high jinks – like the time our ad guy fooled the editor into thinking he had entered him in a stick horse race at Bandera Downs… I could go on forever.

Newspapers have changed a lot over the years and so has public perception. People, especially younger people, don’t read them like they once did. They (like me, to be honest) are more likely to read things they find on the Internet. Newspaper journalists don’t seem to have the clout they once did. It’s harder to make money and there have been a lot of layoffs. I think in time, newspapers will adapt to the digital age. I hope so, because journalists are always going to be important. The news we read on the Internet starts with a reporter, digging up information. We need to figure out a way to pay those folks, because governments and other organizations will get away with bloody murder if they don’t have anyone watching them.

It takes a lot of passion to be a reporter and the rewards tend to be non-material – increasingly so in fact. I know some young go-getters who still have that passion and a great work ethic. That gives me hope. Maybe by the time they get to my age, we will have found a way to pay them what they deserve.

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