Back In The Newspaper Bidness

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Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me

Other times I can barely see

Lately it occurs to me

What a long, strange trip it’s been

|— “Truckin,” The Grateful Dead


The phone call came a few weeks ago while I was talking to a fellow who I lean upon for spiritual counsel and advice. Mainly he just asks questions and prods me to do the same. Rarely does he provide answers, but our conversations have been invaluable.

I ignored the phone vibrating in my pocket until we were finished, then listened to the voicemail. It was an old friend and former newspaper colleague, who asked me to call him back. We have been threatening to get together to eat lunch and catch up for months, and with my summer free now is a good time to do so. That is why I figured he was calling.

Earlier this year, my buddy Leon went back into the newspaper business, helping another longtime colleague and friend who owns a couple dozen community newspapers in Texas. Leon is in charge of the East Texas newspapers and lives in Center, where we first met 32 years ago. He was publishing the East Texas Light and I was hired to eventually run The Rambler in San Augustine. He was calling to tell me the company was close to making a deal to buy the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune, which is Leon’s hometown. I figured he was calling to tell me that he was headed up there to be publisher. I was about to offer my congratulations. No, he was staying in Center, he said. But would I be interested in getting back in the business as editor and publisher of that newspaper?

As regular readers know, I spent the last year teaching journalism at Kilgore College and serving as adviser to the student newspaper and co-adviser to the yearbook. KC is a great place to work in all aspects. My colleague and friend, photography instructor O. Rufus Lovett is an inspiration every day, because of the dedication and energy he puts into his job even after nearly 40 years. It remains his passion in a way that it will never be for me, although I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and working with students.

I struggled mightily with this decision, even after I initially agreed to take the job if the deal was finalized. It is going to be challenging, a lot more hours (no summers off!) and requires me to live apart from my family for at least some of the workweek. We’re still trying to figure that out, but until our daughter graduates in two years our principal residence remains in Longview. So once again I’ll be a commuter husband, though the distance is considerably less than when I drove home each weekend from Austin. Mount Pleasant is only a bit over an hour away.

What it came down to in the end was following my life’s passion, which is putting out a newspaper. I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to do this again, and while helping students learn how to produce a newspaper was certainly fulfilling, it didn’t quite fill the void in my life when I left this business three years ago. And frankly, I am at the age where most publishing jobs go to folks with less gray in their hair, less mileage on them. At least that was my experience when I was in the market for a job, before I went to work at KC.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I was given at KC. But I cannot turn down a chance to shape a community newspaper, to help make it the best I can, to cover stories when needed, take photos, write editorials, layout pages and even sell ads when necessary. In other words, to do whatever it takes to make this a successful enterprise and have fun doing it — and maybe even make a little money at it.

As timing has it, we were headed to New York City and Boston the day after the deal to buy the newspaper closes for a long-planned vacation. So at least we get a week’s worth of sightseeing and family time before I dive back into the newspaper business.

I will still fill this space each week, as well as produce the weekly commentaries for Red River Radio, which you can hear at 7:35 a.m. on Friday mornings at 89.9 FM in the Longview area (and yes, in Mount Pleasant as well), and 88.9 in the Lufkin-Nacogdoches area. Or the station is online 24/7 at redriverradio.org.

I began writing a column for The Rambler — then owned by the same fellow who is the principal owner of the company buying the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune — 32 years ago, in July 1982. I have been writing one since, every week without fail, though there are plenty I wish had never seen the light of day.

So I am coming full circle, back working with the same folks with whom I launched this varied and fascinating newspaper career more than half a lifetime ago. Much has changed about the business since then, but the basics remain the same. Cover the community, print the truth, raise hell when necessary, keep the camera in focus and sell as many newspapers and ads as you can.

It is good to be back doing just that.

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