Greener than the keys on the manual typewriters, I started in the newspaper business in early 1972 at the Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph, 90 miles and a few mountain ranges from my native Abingdon, Va.
In 1987, I was hired to be the metro columnist for The Evansville, Ind., Courier (later, The Evansville Courier & Press), truly a life-changing event. If nothing else, I’m relentless. Altogether, I’ve written more than 6,400 columns on everything from mail-order brides to Appalachian snake-handlers. I loved it.
Unfortunately, I’m not doing the column any more. The past few years have been rough on the newspaper industry. We’ve lost advertisers. We’ve lost readers. Folks have more options with their free time. The Internet. Cable TV. Playing around on their cell phones.
The future for print is dim. Some corporate newspaper owners have filed bankruptcy. To save money, most have reduced the space devoted to news. To save paper, most have reduced the size of the product. In time, a morning edition won’t weigh much more than a good-sized cobweb. I try not to think about it.
We don’t have as many people in the newsroom. I’ve been reassigned from columns to metro. I dabble in features and sports.
So why do this book? I guess the not wanting to be forgotten is the biggest reason. When my grandchildren come along, I want them to know what their Paw-Paw did for a living. And there’s a larger purpose. This kind of column was once common in medium-sized newspapers across the country.
Its author made you laugh, stirred your emotions and introduced you to an assortment of characters you probably wouldn’t have met any other way. Alas, the ranks of full-time columnists are thinning. Soon, I fear, the genre will exist only in yellowed clippings. At the risk of sounding too self-important, I think the absence of these voices is a slash in the fabric of Americana.
So this book of columns from my time in the Midwest is my way of climbing to the highest building, opening the window and hollering out,” Once upon a time I wrote these things for a living and I’m very proud of it.”