In March 1977, I started a journey as a community reporter in my hometown that ended Friday, 42 years later. I never dreamed I would spend my lifetime being a journalist, especially today when the majority of Americans have lost trust in the media.
I know how important it is for me and my colleagues to get the story right. We live in the communities we cover. Every effort is made to make sure the stories we write about are correct.
Community newspapers such as The Daily Home are a dying breed. According to a study last year, one out of five communities had no local news at all.
In this day of technological advances, the news can reach the masses in a matter of minutes as reporters hurriedly get breaking news to a newspaper website.
I did not imagine 42 years ago how the newspaper business would change. When I started first in advertising at the Sylacauga Advance, then as a reporter, typewriters were used to get the news to a scanner system, then transported by a telephone modem to page maker.
Film had to be developed into negatives and the negatives into photographs that were pasted on the page. There were no cellphones, fax machines, computers, emails or the Internet.
Eventually, reporters began using the latest technology, VDTs (video display terminals), which were the size of a small television.
Our newspaper office even had a teletype machine where stories from the Associated Press came across on yellow paper.
Today, we have computers, cellphones, laptops, email and digital cameras.
There is no copy to be pasted. Everything is done on computer.
While technology is wonderful, it has cost thousands and thousands of jobs in the newspaper industry.
My 42-year career has brought me great joy and, at times, sadness.
The friends I have made would not be my friends had I not been a newspaper reporter. I am so thankful for these individuals.
I have gotten to travel to places I would not have otherwise visited. This includes a trip to the Saudi Arabia embassy in Washington with a group of students from Talladega County. They got to travel to the nation’s capital free of charge thanks to the Saudi Arabians’ generosity. This came about because of a project the students did on the Middle Eastern country.
Most of those students had never been on an airplane, and some had not been out of the county. What an adventure.
Another trip to Washington came about when two Sylacauga City Schools received Blue Ribbon honors from the Department of Education.
I got to make yet another tip to Washington when B.B. Comer Memorial Library was one of four libraries recognized by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for providing services to the public from the “cradle to the grave.”
For several years, I got to make trips to Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to visit with local National Guardsmen going through their annual training.
There are thousands of stories I wrote and pages I designed in my 42 years. I spent six years working for The Sylacauga Advance and 36 with The Daily Home that included my first job with my Home team as a sports reporter, news reporter and copy editor, editing copy and laying out pages. All have been different and fulfilling.
You don’t make a lot of money, but if you do your job right, the respect you receive is worth the long hours.
The sad stories can tear at your heart. One such story was about a little boy from Talladega who died on a ride at Six Flags over Georgia. Another was a double murder in Sylacauga where a mother and her daughter were killed by the boyfriend of the daughter. The young woman left behind three children who were adopted by her family.
While the sad stories are scattered throughout my career, so are the feel-good ones.
Most think reporters thrive on controversy. I don’t. These stories are the hardest for me to write. Give me a good feature any day.
As I start my new journey as a retiree, I will miss those people on my beat in Childersburg, Sylacauga and Oak Grove. I will treasure everyone who made my job easy by providing me with the necessary information to get the story right.
These days, the public is relying on tweets and headlines from social media instead of their community-level newspaper. Without local newspapers, the public will not get the full story of a council meeting or school board meeting. Without community newspapers, stories about local people from sports to schools, and stories about issues that affect them the most will go by the wayside.
So, I will continue to read my Daily Home as I sit at my table with a cup of coffee each morning it is delivered. I want to say thanks to my wonderful boss, Anthony Cook, editor; Robert Jackson, publisher; Lew Gilliland, assistant editor; and my co-workers, especially sports editor and great Alabama fan, LaVonte Young. Young and I have spent many late Friday nights on football. He’s my buddy along with Gilliland, who called me many a night to make sure my story is good to go with his editing skill. I am going to miss my Home friends.
I’m not gone, just on the sidelines after 42 years of writing a lifetime of memories.