“The Chocowin County Crier had belonged to Rose’s second husband, Raymond, and they had worked on it together until he was hit by a train, and she felt like she had no choice but to take the whole thing over.
“What made her famous was not so much the articles she wrote about what the county commissioners did, for instance, or the school board, or wrecks on the highway, but stories she wrote about everyday people, and not only from Chocowin County.
“She went all over. She’d take a person you wouldn’t think anything about and make them sound like somebody, and here’s why.
“Everybody’s got a story. She believed it the way you’re going to believe the sun comes up every morning.”
– from Some Days There’s Pie by Catherine Landis
I miss the good old days. For me, those good old days took place in the old newsroom of a daily newspaper where I learned to hustle a story along to the editor before a noon deadline.
I learned more about what made people tick, and what it took to bring a story to the page, during those days spent in that chaotic newsroom than I could have learned in a dozen years of college.
My very first day on the job, there was a murder in the county.
It was rare and it was awful – an elderly gentleman who lived alone had been beaten to death in his country home. The murderers had taken off with his money and his truck.
I was told to go along with the veteran reporter covering the story – to listen and learn.
The crime scene was so horrific I thought I was going to pass out. I learned real quick, at age 24, to toughen up and be ready to ask all the right questions. This was real life.
When the trial of three teens arrested for the murder began, I was assigned to cover the courtroom events along with the reporter who’d taken me under his wing that first morning.
One of us had to run back to the newsroom and quickly put together a concise account of the early morning trial before the noon deadline. The other would stay and continue taking notes for the next day’s account.
As the rookie, I learned that complete sections of my reporting ended up chopped out, floating in to oblivion. I quickly learned to respect the editing process.
When the verdict was reached, with all three found guilty, I hesitantly approached the son of the murdered man. Having seen him at that gruesome murder scene my first day on the job, I was mindful of what he had been forced to endure. I introduced myself and asked him if there was anything he would like to say publicly.
He looked at me for a long time, and I prepared to be told to get lost. Instead, he said just the opposite.
“Thank you for asking… no one has asked what this has been like for us – it’s been all about the savages who beat my dad to death.” While he appreciated the way the trial was handled, he felt there was nothing worse than to have his father remembered for his life’s horrific end.
“He was just a nice guy who trusted the good in people,” he said. “Thanks for asking.” I’ll never forget those words.
Since those mid-1980s, media coverage has become much more brazen. No one seems to mind sticking a microphone in the face of a grieving parent, and I resent that invasion. But I also will never forget the man who thanked me for giving him the chance to be heard.
I learned a lot in my early newspaper days: to toughen up, to be prepared to be yelled at loudly for minor infractions by a grouchy editor who could level me as an idiot one minute then invite me to lunch the next.
I learned to work hard and fast and accurately, to be prepared to shout “OK, I’m up!” so the editor knew one assignment was done and it was time to throw more stuff my way.
I learned to state my case when I felt a story was worth telling, to not back down no matter how much ridicule the editor spewed out, because that was a test to see how determined I was.
Aside from hard news, many of my articles featured older people with interesting life stories to tell, or farm families determined to stick it out through those tough agricultural days of the 1980s, their dreams dangling by a thread as high interest rates shot holes in their profit-loss spreadsheets.
There was nothing fancy about the old newsrooms, where computers were in their infancy and old-timers were resistant to any new kid with new ideas.
But I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. It was there that I learned that everybody has a story, just waiting for the right person to come along and ask the right questions.