Ink-stained memories during Newspaper Week

Published 8:06 pm Thursday, October 8, 2009

I never should have been in this seat.

I grew up in a home where we had a newspaper delivered to a box beside the road every day of my life, for as far back as I can remember. My grandmother, who lived with my parents and me from the time I was 6, wouldn’t miss scanning through a day’s headlines any more than she’d forget to turn on the 11 o’clock news. She was a voracious consumer of news in a time when the choices of news providers were limited.

But Grandma was the only one in my home who cared much about newspapers. I went through a phase of reading the Sunday comics, but I just never really got into the habit of following the news.

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It was only after I left college and found myself searching for a paying job that I found a reason to care about newspapers. As I sat in a chair across from my future first publisher, I was nervous and unsure about my future. He looked at my brief résumé — which offered no real incentive to hire me — and he asked two of most important questions young journalists hear: Can you spell? I’ve always been a good speller, and I quickly told him so. Can you type? I’d never had to type anything before, as I’d had a mother and then various girlfriends who always had done that work for me. So, of course, I said, “Yes.” When he asked me how fast I could type, I thought for a moment and replied, “About 20 words a minute.” “So you can’t type,” he said. “Right,” I said.

I thought I’d missed out on any chance of getting a job at that newspaper. Fortunately, I was willing to do it for a salary that almost qualified me as a volunteer, and I was hired. During the months to come, I learned to type on a manual typewriter as my publisher stood behind me, wondering to the other folks in the room whether my mother had had any children who lived.

It was trial by fire, and I found that I absolutely loved it. Since then, I’ve become the news junkie of the family, unable to deny myself the fix for too long, even in those periods when I’ve been out of the business. As a newspaper reporter, editor or photographer, there’s a feeling of being on the inside — of recording history as it’s being made — that’s just too strong a draw for most of us to turn away from.

I’ve also come to realize something that I never understood as a child watching Grandma read her paper: America’s newspapers are like trusted friends to many of their readers.

Like a good friend, I hope we never let you down. But if we do, I hope you’ll give us a chance to make things right. It’s important to me to know that there are still people out there who look forward to sitting down with the paper every day. And Grandma would want me to treat you right.