Nothing productive is happening when a daily newspaper reporterís phone stops ringing. It means that you arenít wanted for anything, which should hurt because that in turn means that you so obviously havenít been roaring loud nor leaping far enough in your articles. Somebody entrenched on at least some remote tentacle of a particular story should have felt challenged or pleased.
So you know itís time to leave the job when hearing a dial tone in the morning instantly reverses your bodyís sympathetic nervous system, and you welcome it. For most of the past nine years, my morning office routine played out like this: flip up light switch, toss purse, tap on desk lamp, turn on computer, hang up coat, sit down, click three icons and, finally, (wait for it) pick up the phone. Dial tone? Ahhh. Beep, beep, beep (message indicator)? Cringe.
That was even before a blank screen challenged me to regurgitate something that I most likely just learned. I gave myself 1 to 2 hours to fill it and then get a source on the phone to verify details and get quotes, all by our 9 a.m. deadline. It could be anything from methane producing cows, gas wells or swamps, to ash bores or the swine flu, to the death of a prominent member of the community or money matters of all kinds, including a small business loan for a start-up Greek yogurt company. On good days, I would already have the lead and several paragraphs written from the day before, and even enough time left after deadline to proofread the young cubbiesí articles. On bad days Ö well it was a rush, and not in a good way.
While peeling away post it notes pinned to the bulletin board in my office and uncovering the bare walls underneath old county road maps, timely statistics and financial reports, Iím reminded of the many people who called and were both pleasant and helpful. Many Chenango County-loving people gave me ideas for stories, and scoops that resulted in a number of articles. A few praised me. Others cried about the injustice dealt them, and I tried to help.
But remembering the angry calls from a senator, two county sheriffs, a fire chief and one extremely irate county supervisor still puts me right under the desk. I knew going in that laying my name out in public, getting into other peopleís business and taking the risk to get the facts fair and straight, all while keeping the English language intact, wasnít for the meek nor fainthearted. I handled the humiliation respectfully well enough to keep on typing from the ages of 45 to 51 (and even mended fences with most of the above officials). However, the last two years of deadlines and fear of the 9,000 people who have the right to criticize me every day (as my editor so eloquently describes our faithful readers), have admittedly thinned my skin.
Youíve read no thumbs up nor down from me since I wrote my last editorial and angered the first official who complained. I have conscientiously steered clear of taking any stand on anything, not in columns, blogs, Tweets nor Facebook. Itís just not my generation, nor a part of the Fourth Estate that I learned way back in college. Even though this is a small town in a sparsely populated, rural, upstate New York county, it matters to me whether my news sources know how I feel about them or about something with which they might differ. We journalists couldnít write without our sources; itís just not good to scare them off.
Itís funny how I wrote lots of lines about lines, from the First Transit bus line to the NYS&W Railroad and Routes 12 and 32. There were buried pipelines for water and natural gas and overhead high voltage lines. Even a lonely emergency management cable from the old jail to the new one caught our attention, as did the demand and supply of Lifelines for the aged. I also wrote about expenditures for snowplows, pensions and education and revenues from boarding in prisoners and sales tax. I warned you about radiation, arsenic, rabies and flu epidemics, bears, the tomato blight, and all weather types from slippery roads to floods. To lighten things up, I threw in some sweetness about dance performances and local dancers making it big, about slam poetry competitions and high school dramas and musicals. The words easily flowed when describing art at Colorscape, bands at Bluesfest and flowers at the Fair. And we traveled to Afghanistan, Russia, India, France and Brazil with my columnists.
Now pulling back from the keyboard, I remember the specificity, the web of intricacies, the list of historical references that might be applicable to my story and how I struggled to interpret what someone else meant by what they had said. Mostly I told you what your town or city supervisor said about spending your tax dollars, or worse, didnít say, and I made a point of telling you whether or not they actually showed up to represent you. No matter how small, my aim was to make a difference in your life. I hope I did, and hope even more that you voted or took some action yourself, accordingly.
Truly, I am way too young to retire from anything, so even though Iím saying good bye again to The Evening Sun newsroom, and my editor and good friend Jeff Genung, I hope to revamp my former ďJust ShortĒ column from the early 90s. I havenít appeared on this particular page in the paper since then for the aforementioned reasons, and itís high time. Not only do I have updates to impart about living in the country, about marriage and about children, but I now have a better frame of reference about this place we call home.
As I get going, and I hope to soon, please be advised that I wonít be listening for your voice messages any more, not at work nor at home. My kids stopped responding to voice mail when they left for cyber space years ago, so it must be acceptable, if not de rigueur.
If you absolutely must, feel free to text me. Itíll be quieter that way.