Thirty years ago this month, I walked into the newsroom of the Birmingham Post-Herald as an intern and sat down at a desk I had to share with someone else. I had no idea that exactly three decades later I would be sitting behind another desk at a different newspaper. This time, it’s the editor’s desk at Weld – a paper which, in 1982, didn’t even exist — and it appears that the desk is mine.
It’s a wild, funny thing to contemplate, this long, strange trip full circle from that September afternoon as an eager, green, cub reporter — through the seismic shifts that have transformed journalism, communications, and, frankly, me – and back again into the news business. Not so green, maybe (except in the environmentally conscious way; hey – I recycle), but in other ways, back to where I started, in a new role, at a small, but scrappy, newspaper.
Hours before writing this blog (another concept that didn’t even exist in1982), I spent a portion of the day trying to give some on-the-job training to an earnest young man who wants to be a newspaperman. I was trying – to paraphrase crusty night city editor Clark Gable in the movie The Teacher’s Pet – to ‘teach him his business.’ Exactly 30 years ago, I was that young man, being taught his business by the wizened veterans at the Post-Herald, some of them already old pros then, although still in their 20s.
It is funny that when I first walked into the PH newsroom, I had no inking that I ever would leave, or that the paper itself would ever go away, as it did, a few years after I did. Or that the Post-Herald‘s bigger rival, The Birmingham News, would ever face the possibility that it would cease to be a daily paper, or that Birmingham would ever not have a locally produced newspaper each day — a certainty looming ominously as this September draws to a close.
And yet, here we are, contemplating as a community and with some dread what it will be like in a very short time, to be a town without a daily rag covering what’s happening, what people need to know, and what it will be like for so many journalists to have to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances in order to make a living. That, of course, is not funny. It is sad, it is unfortunate, but it is not unprecedented.
In the years since I first sat down at a shared computer terminal at the Post-Herald — nobody had PCs back then, really — the notion that the print journalism business would change dramatically became common knowledge. It became clear that print’s dominance as the means for providing information to the public would not hold, could not hold. It became undeniable that the vehicles for gathering and disseminating news, opinion, sports, features and all other staples of journalism would have to adapt – to the speed and democratizing force that is the Internet, to the 24-hour news cycle, to shortening attention spans, to the brave, new, portable, digital frontier.
As the business changed, so have the people who carry it out. Many of us came to embrace, or at least accept, the idea of being, not just writers. We had to become, for pragmatic reasons, communicators. We had to become malleable to the new reality, taking on roles broad enough to cover – in my case, for instance, everything from the reporter I was, to the columnist, media specialist, teacher, magazine editor, book editor, public relations rep, marketer, copywriter, web content provider, blogger and –? I became.
Strange, because I just wanted to become a good reporter, that day when I walked into the PH as an intern, desperately hoping no one would figure out how poorly I typed. It’s also strange because, with all the other skills I’ve had to learn to keep up with the world of communications, I still can’t really type. I do have 30 years of experience disguising that technical deficiency with blinding speed and witty banter. That’s going on my resume next time I update it.
Thirty years of updating my resume – not really a bad thing. It means thirty years of adapting, thirty years of learning, thirty years of viability in the face of industry change and economic instability. That’s a blessing. A good thing. And it means that 30 – a number which old school journalists have used for years to signal the conclusion of a story – doesn’t always mean, “the end.”
One thought on “Thirty… and counting”
Congratulations on your new position. Wishing you all the best as you take on your competition, “one of the South’s newspapers.”