It was about this time 12 years ago that I retired from the daily newspaper business. After 26 years of working at four newspapers and holding several positions, I had come to the end. It didn’t hurt that I had an offer of a higher-paying job.
A bunch of late nights chasing dead bodies, early morning house fires and a bazillion interviews with politicians, killers, robbers, dope peddlers, nice old people, funny children and every kind of person you could name, was over. Dealing with a wide array of personalities and egos as an editor had its ups and downs, too.
Being a news reporter, if you are in it for the right reasons, is as honorable a profession as any other. You are the eyes and ears of your neighbors. You get to tell them what’s behind closed doors.
I miss interviewing people who are surprisingly willing to talk to me about a child who was killed or why someone decided to grow a giant tomato. I miss listening to a government official try to weasel out of a misstep or talk glowingly about a program they developed that actually helped folks.
I miss spending days sifting through public records in courthouses, office basements and other places, trying to get to the truth. I miss the exhilaration of the “ah-hah” moment when everything comes together.
I miss the old, grumpy but excellent copy editors who would worry painfully over a sentence in my story and ask if they could change “that to this.” Or, the editor who caught the misspelling of the word public. If you leave the “l” out of the word public, the phrase “all are invited to the public gathering” takes on a whole new meaning.
I miss the time a reporter misspelled one of the words in the phrase “lame duck mayor.” I think you can figure this one out on your own.
I miss some of the characters I have worked with. One reporter at the Orlando Sentinel newspaper had such an ego that he wound up being taken off of a story about a woman who had been switched at birth in a local hospital. Reporters from a competing paper won a Pulitzer Prize on that story.
I also managed a reporter there who is too shy to conduct interviews face to face.
I loved the characters I worked with for a month at the old News Leader newspaper in Baton Rouge. We would fill up the open pages with some stories that had already been published in the Morning Advocate and the State-Times. One day, the editor gave me a camera with no film in it and asked me to cover a threatened bus strike. I will say there were no photographs that day.
I remember my classic first day at the State-Times. There were no other black reporters there. When I walked into the newsroom, a reporter greeted me with, “You must be Ed Pratt.” She was very intuitive. No wonder she was a reporter.
But, out of that situation, I built a lot of lasting friendships with dozens of people. Our friendships continue today. We shared one another’s pain and good times.
We played softball together, played cards late into the night and watched our children grow up.
I miss how we cared about one another so much then. I don’t know if that happens anymore.
I’ll never forget my editor coming to my house one morning when I was going through a very rough spot in my life and spending a lot of time talking to me. It was the same guy who I stayed away from early on when we were both reporters because he had a coffee mug with a Confederate flag on it.
The truth is, I miss a lot about those times. But, I will never want to go back because it will never be the same. That’s a good thing, I guess.
However, I doubt these new reporters, with their Twitter and Facebook, have ever sat in a ditch at night with some of their reporter friends, drank beer and told stories.
Yeah, that’s what I miss.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University.