I was 19 years old when I walked into the Wichita Eagle-Beacon’s newsroom for the first time in 1974. It was November and I had just been hired to work on the phone crew in the sports department after more than a year of working as the sports editor at the Derby Daily Reporter.
I took a pay cut to go to the Eagle, where I would be one of several college-age people who worked evenings, collecting box scores and other information over the telephone.
It wasn’t rocket science. But I was determined to do a good job because I wanted to be a sports writer and I wanted to be hired to be a sports writer by the Eagle-Beacon (in those days, the Beacon was the afternoon paper). I was more than willing to start out small and had confidence that I could make an impression because of my experience working in Derby.
I was a journalism student at Wichita State at the time. The man who hired me at the Eagle-Beacon, Rod Smith, was at the time in charge of high school coverage. He was energetic and somewhat eccentric, but I had gotten to know him when I worked in Derby and liked him. He was always friendly and supportive and he took me under his wing. Not that he actually had a wing. I really kind of hate the term “under his wing,” but cannot think of a more apt way to describe Rod’s influence. I also do not like the word “apt.”
Even though the work on the phone crew was simple, it was fun. And it was exciting, I must admit, to type up a box score and see it in the newspaper the next morning. I guess I was easily excited in those days.
I prided myself (and still do) on being able to type fast. Not the fastest, but fast. So I was able to churn out a bunch of box scores, which I suppose impressed somebody. I’m just not sure who.
About a month after I was hired to work on the phone crew, I was sent out to cover a basketball game between Andale and Cheney. I’m sure I was an emergency choice. I think we printed about five paragraphs about that game on an inside page, but seeing my name in print for the first time in a newspaper I had grown up reading was a tremendous personal moment for me. And for my parents.
My mother cut out every story I wrote for the Eagle-Beacon, and later just the Eagle, until she died in 1990. I have several scrap books of articles from those early years, thanks to her. And after she passed away, a friend of her’s from the neighborhood continued the tradition of cutting out my stories. She mailed them to me in a big package every month or so.
I was hired full-time at the paper in the summer of 1975 as a high school sports reporter. Those were some of the best years of my career and of my life. It was kind of a thrown-into-the-fire situation. I was just a kid covering even young kids, but it worked out. There were some tense moments. My inexperience was a factor and my sports editor at the time, Mal Elliott, wasn’t the most patient guy.
But he gave me a chance and I was always willing to work hard. In those days, we had to produce enough copy (stories) to satisfy the needs of the Eagle and the Beacon. So when I covered a game for the Eagle, I also wrote re-caps for the Beacon. And I loved very minute of it.
The newspaper was such a vibrant place. I was meeting all kinds of characters – colleagues and people I wrote about. It was a brand new world and there was always a lot going on.
I’ll be a 39-year veteran of the Eagle in a couple of days. I never thought I could last 39 years in one place. I’m too cantankerous. I rub some people the wrong way. I’m difficult.
But I’ve managed to make it work at the newspaper, which has changed in so many ways since those early days.
I’m now doing videos. For a newspaper. Who would have thunk it? I’m doing this blog. My columns are posted online far in advance of the newspaper’s morning delivery.
Adaptation is a prerequisite for those of us in newspapers. And change is exciting, if a bit daunting. Mostly, though, change is unavoidable. You either change for the better or for the worse. My advice: Do your best to make it for the better.