“You’re 70 years old,” a friend said over coffee Monday. “For God’s sake, why don’t you slow down!”
Yes, I am 70. In fact, I’m more than halfway to age 71. Seven decades of life on this third rock from the sun (sorry, didn’t have a better cliché).
I have three assignments for news today: One covering courts, a second on sports and a third photographing and writing about the political process that wreaks havoc on our government.
I have a “go bag” by the door — filled with necessary clothing and accessories for a trip that could involve climbing on board a plane and/or spending the night at some locations. Have spent most of my life with one.
At a time when most spend their time in activities that center around “taking it easy” or reflecting on the twilight years of one’s life, I find solace and relaxation in the hustle and bustle antics that come from being a news addict and newspaperman.
I spend 25 hours a week editing articles, writing columns and deciding in layout, headlines and placement for this website (Blue Ridge Muse) and Capitol Hill Blue, my national political news website that celebrated its 24th year on the World Wide Web on Monday.
In some ways, I stay busy nowadays because of serous cutbacks the profession that has defined most of my life is a result of cutbacks in the employment of full-time journalists that used to fill the newsrooms of most daily newspapers.
I’m a “cheap commodity” for news organizations: A senior citizen who doesn’t need company-paid health insurance who draws Social Security, has Medicare with its supplements and owns his own professional photographic and video equipment. On the flip side, I work because others no longer have jobs. That saddens me.
I became a full-time newspaperman in high school, working for The Floyd Press. At 17, I was a reporter for The Roanoke Times, began writing a column at 19 and became a energetic “go-getter” who devised ways to cover the 12 Hours of Sebring race in Florida, Spring Break at Ford Lauderdale, race riots and protests in Memphis and peace rallies in Washington — all outside the normal sphere of stories for the paper.
If the Times or The Telegraph in Alton, IL — my home for 12 years after leaving Roanoke in 1969 — would not pay to send me somewhere for a news story, I would take vacation time and pay the way to get to there myself.
More often than not, those “self-assigned” projects resulted in stories that brought awards. They also brought scorn from colleagues who thought my efforts could hurt their chances to get “legitimate assignments” from our employers.
Except for my ill-advised “sabbatical” from journalism to make money as a political operative for a dozen years, I have traveled the world in coverage of news, faced death in regions of conflict, covered presidents who resigned in disgrace and photographed horrific events like the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 during my 23 years in Washington (1981-2004).
I love covering the news. I love photographing news and feature events. I keep a news notebook in the back pocket of my jeans and a camera hanging off one shoulder most days (and nights).
Yet, some friends say I push too hard and disregard my health by working 50, 60 or more hours a week at a late age and a body crippled my advancing arthritis, limitations from injuries over the last 55 years and not enough rest.
I’ve tried to slow down but can’t. I decided at age 10 that this profession is what I wanted to do with my life and really don’t know what else.
Long-suffering wife Amy understands my drive and desires. She supports them and often pitches in to help. She can pick up a camera or a video cam to aid such efforts.
That’s why we hope to celebrate a 40th anniversary as man and wife in December. With luck, we will have dinner — unless I’m away somewhere on assignment.