The Long Strange Trip Continues

Print this entry

As I embarked on a new adventure this month, writing a weekly Capital Highlights column for Texas Press Association that goes out to newspapers statewide, it brought back memories of some of the memorable folks I worked with over the past five decades, most of it spent working at community newspapers.

  • I started on the lowest rung of the ladder in 1968, as a paperboy for the Longview Daily News, the afternoon edition of the local paper. I peddled papers door-to-door throughout downtown and to the car dealerships on Cotton Street and Spur 63. The circulation manager was Charlie Hart, a kindly man who wore a toupee and drove a convertible — a dangerous combination, it seemed to my 13-year-old mind. Charlie sent me a welcoming email when I became publisher of the News-Journal in 2008 — 40 years after starting there as a paperboy. He passed away on New Year’s Eve in 2017, four days shy of his 86th birthday. He was a fine fellow.
  • While attending Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, I managed to talk my way into a job as a lithographer at The Daily Sentinel. Back in the day, newspaper pages were pasted up, with black rectangles for where the photographs (called halftones) would fit. I was one of three folks in the department, shooting large negatives of the pages, stripping in the photos, and then using a thin brush and fuchsia-colored ink to cover the pinholes in the negative, a practice called opaquing.

Eventually, I parlayed my high-school gig as a part-time photographer for the Longview paper in high school into becoming the paper’s only full-time photographer. The production manager was Weaver Blacksher, but we all called him “Daddy Bear.” He put the paper together, trimming rivers of type with an Exacto knife and using heated wax to adhere it to the layout page, a cigar clamped between his lips, a denim apron hanging from his neck.

Daddy Bear took one look at my nearly shoulder-length hair and from then on called me “Hippie.” As in, “Hey Hippie, when are you going to get those prints developed?”

In the pressroom, Joe Clifton caught the papers as the came off the press and stacked them so they could be bundled, all the while singing quite loudly, “I don’t know nothing about it,” over and over. I never figured out why.

  • As I was finishing up graduate photojournalism courses at The University of Texas, I landed a job as a photographer and feature writer for the Round Rock Leader. The publisher was the urbane and even-tempered Larry Jackson, who published community newspapers for decades. Though retired, Larry is still active with the Texas Newspaper Foundation and has even taking some temporary publishing gigs over the past several years.

The Leader newsroom was on the second floor of a downtown Round Rock building, a picturesque setting. We typed our stories and photo captions on manual typewriters. Charlie Loving, the sports editor, had several sideline gigs going, such as putting on the Luckenbach World’s Fair with actor and storyteller Guich Kooch. He also ran the chicken flying contest at Round Rock’s Frontier Days. Contestants shoved their chicken into the back end of a rural mailbox with the rear removed. It was attached to a post and up on a stage. Using a toilet plunger, the chicken was “coaxed” to leave the mailbox and take to flight. Most squawked and flew a few feet, but some soared like eagles. Well, maybe like large pigeons.

I searched YouTube. Chicken-flying contests are still a thing. The Central Texas town of Gonzales held one in 2019. I figure the pandemic canceled last year’s event.

I might have some of the details wrong, but one afternoon, Charlie got fed  up with his balky typewriter, went to the back door, made sure nobody was below, and dropped it to the pavement. He then walked in and paid Larry $100 for the typewriter. At least that’s how I recall it.

  • Finally, after graduate school I ended up running the San Augustine Rambler in 1982. Founder Sam Malone had sold it the previous year and I went to work for Jim Chionsini, the new owner. I have written about Sam often. He was the stereotypical old-time country editor, with a bourbon bottle in the drawer and a loaded shotgun in the corner of his office. I learned more about country newspapering from Sam than anyone else over the decades. Hard to believe he’s been gone more than two decades.

Jim, who passed away last summer, also owned the Center paper up the road, which at the time was published by Leon Aldridge. Leon and I are still friends. Several years ago, he took a second turn at publishing the Light & Champion, which didn’t last terribly long, but he continued to write a column for that paper and the Tribune, in Mount Pleasant, his hometown.

Leon called right after I emailed him about my new column endeavor, since our columns would appear side-by-side in those papers. That is when he let me know he had just made a deal to once again be publisher of the Light & Champion. Leon is a fine newspaperman and will do a great job, I’m certain. He’s hoping the third time is a charm.

As the Grateful Dead song Truckin’ put it, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” It’s not over yet.

Print this entry

Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required