An adopted Arkie looks at 45 years | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, January 28, 2018

An adopted Arkie looks at 45 years

Posted By on Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 4:06 AM

click to enlarge 1973nlr.jpeg

Personal privilege:

I've just finished my 45th year in the news business in Little Rock and can't resist reminiscing.

That photograph is me not long after my January 1973 hire at the Arkansas Gazette for $130 a week. I'm standing outside my $80/month (furnished, gas and water included) North Little Rock garage apartment with a dog once brought home from an escape by the mayor of Dogtown himself, Bob Rosamond.

I dropped out of Stanford grad school in the fall of 1972.

When I dropped by to say goodbye to my advisor, Bill Rivers, I related that I'd already been turned down for a job at the Arkansas Gazette. Managing Editor Bob Douglas had told me, with good reason given my limited experience as sports editor of a small-town Virginia weekly during college days, that I needed some farm-team work first. He suggested Pine Bluff.

Rivers told me he'd write a letter to Gazette City Editor Bill Shelton, whom he'd met researching a journalism project with Ben Bagdikian. (Yes, the reporter who landed the Pentagon papers in "The Post." He became a journalism dean across the bay from Rivers at Berkeley.)

By the time I'd wound home by car to Louisiana after a few stops in Texas, a copy of Rivers' kind letter to Shelton was waiting for me. The next day, early in the new year, I woke with a hangover and figured it was time to wobble down to the Lake Charles American Press and apply for a job. I'd never considered anything but working on a newspaper. Before I could leave the house, the phone rang. It was Bill Shelton, offering me a job.

A few days later I was in Little Rock, sharing a desk with a raffish police reporter in the old Gazette newsroom. I stubbed cigarettes out on the parquet floor like everyone else.

The next 45 years passed quickly (though not the first six weeks of my quitting cigarettes in 1977). I met Ellen, we sent two kids into the world and, after almost 19 years, witnessed the end of the Arkansas Gazette. I moved to the Arkansas Times on the invitation of publisher Alan Leveritt, whom I'd met when he was a relief obit writer at the Gazette in 1973. And here I am 26 years later.

The world of newspapering is in disarray thanks to the Internet and what it wrought — Craigslist, Amazon, Facebook, Google and all the rest.

But I'm also grateful for the Internet. It gave me an entry almost 14 years ago, as a weekly newspaper editor, back into daily (minute-by-minute even) news. The Arkansas Blog continues to offer reporting, opinion and aggregation. It's augmented by things we didn't anticipate in 2004 - podcasts, live Facebook video, cell phone photos, Twitter, Instagram and more. Who knows what's next? I'm happy too, that Lindsey Millar took over as Times editor seven years ago and brought a savvier outlook than my own to the digital revolution. Every day is a challenge — at the Times and every other news organization. (They aren't all newspapers.)

I remember the newspaper of 1973 fondly: A switchboard operator, a morgue full of clip files, a photo darkroom, Underwood upright typewriters, Linotypes, copy boys, clattering wire service machines, the spike that Shelton slammed copy on after editing, the "rim" where copy editors worked, mining the Criss-Cross, City Directory and Facts on File for information, telephone books, the worn marble stairs in the Gazette building, the hailstorm sound of typewriters banged at deadline by Ernest Dumas, Doug Smith, George Bentley, John Woodruff, Bill Lewis, Jim Bailey, Orville Henry, Charles Albright, Richard Allin, Bob Lancaster, Mike Trimble and other legendary figures. Women were outnumbered but they were there when I arrived — such as Matilda Tuohey, Ginger Shiras, Brenda Scisson, Tish Talbot, Martha Douglas, Betty Fulkerson, Harriet Aldridge, Pat Trimble Patterson, Diane Woodruff, Julie Baldridge, historian Margaret Ross.

General assignment and cop reporters worked into the night but cheap pleasures were many. Some of them: The Shack, the Brunswick, Peck's, the Ship Ahoy, the Pitcher, Arkansas Fats, Old Hickory, the Press Club, Fisher's BBQ, Cuz Fisher's, Town Hall, Ballard BBQ, Island X, Bottom of the Rock, Lin's, the Band Box, Thalheimer's Smoke Shop and, for really special nights out, steaks and soda bread at the Leather Bottle, where Bob Hayes played guitar and sang in the lounge. Hayes entertained at the Ballard-catered barbecue dinner the night before my 1976 wedding, a gig I won with a $90 bid at the Tabriz hot dog night auction. Bob's gone now but my marriage endures.

OK. Enough about my change in latitude in 1973. Thanks for checking in. And keep the tips and jokes coming. As the song says, if we couldn't laugh we'd all go insane.



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