Woke up this morning to a blast from the past.
A photo of a front page from the Civic Memorial High School Eaglet student newspaper in Bethalto, Illinois, arrived in Facebook from Fred Gowin.
The headline across the front: “Eaglet Interviews Doug Thompson.” I was a columnist for the Alton Telegraph when that piece was published on December 1, 1975.” I remember that interview by Cindy White, a student at the school, who spent time in our newsroom and asked good questions.
Thanks to Fred Gowin for sending a photo of the front page of the paper. It brought back many pleasant memories of the 12 years I spent with The Telegraph.
White’s interview stands out in my memory because she was a good interviewer. Several high school and college journalists interviewed me in those days.
Her story dealt with reactions from readers who didn’t like some of the opinions expressed in my column. She reported on anger form Alton auto dealers who cancelled all their advertizing for a while because I wrote about pushy tactics by some car salesmen.
Another reader tried to run me down with his car. He went to jail. I went back to work.
Amy tells me I’ve mellowed since those often turbulent years in Alton but I still seem to hit nerves when I do what I do. I have long followed the advice of legendary Chicago journalist Findley Peter Dunne, who wrote that “it is the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
During the time in Alton, I was fortunate enough to become a friend of another Chicago legend: Columnist Mike Royko, who said “it’s our job to piss people off. I we don’t we should find something else to do.”
In Alton, I pissed off a lot of people, including Alton mayor Paul Lenz, who issued tirades against me in both public and private, and former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, who called more than one press conference to call me names.
Such tirades from public officials, however, were offset by letters from people who said I helped them and comments from others who stopped me on the street or approached over dinner at a restaurant.
As I wrote earlier this month, a cause I took on that helped free a man from jail came back to haunt me when he killed a popular pharmacist in a robbery. That incident drove me to take a sabbatical from writing and reporting to work as a political operative for a decade.
I was a miserable, but successful, political operative who drowned his sorrows in a bottle and, finally, took the first steps towards sobriety and returned to journalism more than 20 years ago.
Reading Cindy White’s piece again on this Tuesday morning reminded me reminded me of a book about journalism that I read as a teenager that waid: “Journalism is a profession for those who can’t possibly do anything else.”
Mike Royko said the same thing over drinks in his favorite bar in Chicago years later.
I ignored their advice when I ventured into life as a political operative. I regret that sideline trip and was, thankfully, able to return to what I do and love. It’s what I intend to do for whatever time I have left in this life.
My thanks to Fred Gowin to sending me the page from that student newspaper from 39 years ago and thank you Cindy White, wherever you are, for writing it.