Years before computers replaced typewriters in newsrooms, reporters typed their stories on copy paper, double or triple space to allow for editing marks, cut and pasted with rubber cement from glue pots and closed by typing “-30-” or circling the number.
I have come to the stage in my career where “30” takes on a greater significance. My career is ending.
Like many Baby Boomers, I was inspired to enter the business because of the hero status Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post attained by breaking the Watergate scandal story, leading to the downfall of then-President Richard Nixon.
Even before I entered the business, I received pushback from my own family. During the year Jimmy Carter was elected president, the Los Angeles Times published a front-page article about the tightening job market for journalism school graduates.
On that basis, my optometrist brother-in-law tried to discourage me from furthering my studies in journalism. Over ensuing years, my immediate family members pressured me to make a career change.
But contrary to my financial well-being and perhaps my best interests, I have stuck with a field that has undergone tremendous change, contraction, even turmoil.
Journalism school did not prepare me to enter the business.
I stumbled on Day 1 of my first job at a now-defunct mid-size daily in South Florida because I did not know how to take dictation over the phone. Demoralized for a number of reasons and having a difficult time coping with culture shock, I quit after 4 1/2 months and returned to Southern California.
Some of my former colleagues were much better prepared and moved on to bright lights, big city at metro newspapers. By contrast, I have become a career-long community journalist.
I worked at one small newspaper where I took photos of ribbon cuttings, check-passings, grand champion livestock winners at the local fair, a Coke can display at a supermarket and other small-town fare. I wrote a column in which I jokingly advised the chamber of commerce to put its wood scissors in a time capsule because it was beginning to lose its “cutting edge.”
However, I also covered big stories in that farming town in the California desert and elsewhere. Local merchants welcomed an industry that nobody else wanted: a state prison. They conducted a parade and arranged a bus trip to the state Capitol in Sacramento. They prevailed in a clash of economic interests with farmers, who succeeded in having the prison built 17 miles outside of town.
I covered another big story there that led to prison: the conviction of the son of the school board president on double-murder charges.
I’ve reported a lot of sad news over the years. I saw a 35-year-old man die when he lost control of his skateboard during an extreme sport event in Southern California. His helmet flew off, and he hit his head on the pavement. His mother witnessed him dying.
Tragedies have befallen others, including a 1968 high school graduate of one rural Arizona town who went for a job interview in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Ironically, he was to be interviewed for a job in risk management.
I interviewed a recent high school graduate in Arizona who was willing to give up her comfortable, middle-class lifestyle to become a humanitarian aid worker. Seven years later, she was kidnapped by ISIS in Syria, held as a sex slave and later murdered. More recently, I’ve knocked on doors in neighborhoods in the Longview area where homicides have occurred.
I’ve lived in six states, which has made my life more enriched than if I had never left California. Every place where I have been has been a learning and character-building experience, from the deserts of California, Arizona and Utah to the Piney Woods of East Texas.
I’ve chosen to leave during exciting and perilous times to work in journalism, amid a global pandemic that is seeing no letup and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. It has been said that journalists enjoy a front-row seat to view history.
I am ready now to yield that seat to my successor, who started this week.
About eight years ago, a recent college graduate less than half my age told me, “Ken, you’re living your life. You’re still living your life.”
A move took me to a new opportunity in Longview four years ago. I’m getting ready for my next move as my life’s journeys continue.