The Write Stuff and how it all began

ast month I celebrated my 25th anniversary at The Republic. Someone congratulating me on LinkedIn said, “Man, I don’t even remember 25 years ago.” While I can relate to that, I certainly remember April 16, 1990.

I entered the building that day with my mind racing. I was 37, with a wife and two kids. I had just left a secure — and better-paying — career with the federal government to enter the exciting world of journalism, even though I was a political science major who never took a single journalism class.

How’s that for preparation?

But I wasn’t a complete rookie. In 1988 I saw a help-wanted ad. The Republic was looking for someone to cover city council, school board and other meetings in Jackson County. I lived in Seymour, and I’d always wanted to be a writer, so I applied, sending along my vast collection of published clips.

OK, maybe vast isn’t the right word. The total extent of my published writing at the time was some greeting cards and a few humor columns published in a parenting magazine.

I guess nobody else applied, because I got the job and became what is known as a stringer. I worked in Indianapolis all day, then drove back to Seymour and went to meetings. After the meeting I went home and wrote my story on a primitive Radio Shack computer, then “phoned” it in to The Republic office.

In 1990, The Republic decided to hire a full-time reporter to cover Jackson County. The editor at the time, John Harmon, had more faith in me than I had in myself and offered me the job. I accepted. Then I declined. Then I accepted again … then declined again. Finally I accepted for good.

I went from working eight hours a day at a job I disliked to working the occasional 15-hour day at a job I loved.

My first real story as a full-time reporter was a Sunday feature cover on a garden project at an elementary school. Actually it was also the first non-meeting story I’d ever written in my life. Talk about on-the-job training.

I interviewed the four teachers who organized the project then drove back to the office and wrote a story … a very long story. After Harmon read it, his only comment was, “Well, you certainly didn’t leave anything out.”

My stories slowly got better and shorter. A few years later I was given the chance to start writing this weekly column, which, thanks to faithful readers like you, I’ve somehow kept going for more than 20 years. I’ve had several job titles over the years and have boxes of unused business cards at home to prove it.

Much has changed since I reported for duty in 1990. I missed the typewriter days by a few years, but we were writing on some kind of basic word processor that didn’t even have a mouse. We were still pasting up pages and processing film in the darkroom. The only Web we had was on the press.

We were an afternoon paper in 1990, with a 9:15 a.m. deadline. Once that day’s paper was complete, we could hear, feel and watch the big yellow press slowly start to roll. That yellow press is no longer here. In fact, if it were, I’d be sitting smack dab in the middle of it as I’m typing this column.

Only a handful of folks in the building today were here on my first day. So many reporters, editors, photographers, sales reps, etc., have come and gone over the past 25 years that I can’t even remember all of them.

Many made me a better journalist, some are still good friends, a few I’d just as soon forget, and one even married me.

Journalism is one of those careers where to get ahead you often need to have multiple jobs at multiple papers. But I chose to stay at The Republic and to stay in Columbus. My kids were happy here and so was I. And at 25 years and counting, I can’t help but think I came out ahead in the long run.