Please bear with me on this one. I was a newspaper journalist for 40 years. Now, newspapers have declined across the country, but while they were still prominent, I’d like to think I made a tiny contribution to the careers of two young journalists who came through The Paducah Sun in Kentucky, where I was the night city editor for 12 years. I’d like to tell you a little about them, and in so doing, I’m indulging in a little therapy.
Shelley Street was a summer intern at the Sun in the late 1990s. She came out of Murray State University’s journalism program and shone so brightly that when she graduated in 2000, Karl Harrison, the executive editor at the Sun, grabbed her immediately.
Shelley could handle just about any news event you could throw at her, but she excelled at personal profile features — you know, the kind that people like to read because they’re about regular folks in their own community. Usually, they were real tuggers at the heartstrings because of the person’s life circumstances, so Shelley and I used to laugh about what she called her “Care, Dammit” features.
When I left the Sun for good (third time’s a charm) in 2005 to live and work in China, I thought Shelley might go on to larger newspapers and thrive by writing “Care, Dammit” features that would make a difference in bigger cities. But no, Shelley met Paul Byrne, married him, and because she loved the area around western Kentucky so much, I guess she always knew she would give of her talents and stay there.
But then something happened. Harrison was unjustly fired at the Sun, and his successors didn’t suit Shelley. She left to become a victims’ advocate in the local court system — a job that, at least, coincided with her compassion for people facing tough situations. She did the job for five years, but when the internal political nonsense got to be too much for her, she left and wondered where God was going to lead her next.
She learned about a job at the Mayfield Messenger, a newspaper in a town south of Paducah. She interviewed and got the job a year ago. Now, working for a thrice weekly newspaper has challenges of its own, and small community newspapers never have enough staff to handle all the copy, but Shelley has returned to journalism, and she loves it. She somehow juggles work and her family life (Paul and their son, Drew), but best of all, the “Care, Dammit” features are back. That means the stars are realigned properly, and I can sleep better again.
Then there is Jimmy Nesbitt, who also interned at the Sun one summer, and when he graduated from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, we grabbed him, too. Jimmy was a wordsmith supreme, and even he’ll admit he was a better writer than a reporter. But he worked on his reporting skills and improved, and about two years later he went on to a job in Evansville, Indiana, where he covered primarily the police beat. I especially remember his stories related to a tornado touchdown in the area, which meant he hadn’t lost his touch with features.
But just as Shelley left journalism for a while, so did Jimmy. He went to work as the public relations director for the United Way in Evansville. After I had moved from China Daily in Beijing to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong in 2007, Jimmy and I exchanged emails about his unhappiness at the United Way, and I recommended that Jimmy apply to China Daily as an editor.
He spent three years editing in the international department and writing a bit for China Daily, then decided it was time to go home. Now, in the meantime, Jimmy met Tiffany, the love of his life, in Beijing. Tiffany is a lovely Filipina, and I was happy to attend their wedding in the Philippines. So now any move was going to entail both of them.
Jimmy found an ad looking for a features editor at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. After he had been there awhile and Tiffany had also later landed a job at the Journal covering — of all things — the police beat, the newspaper lost its managing editor (the number two position in the newsroom), and Jimmy suggested I apply. The interview went well, I went out and met the publisher and other department heads, and I got the job. So, in a way, Jimmy “paid back” my recommendation that he give China a try.
Unfortunately, Jimmy couldn’t know that my employment at the Journal would last only three months. Cutbacks mandated by the corporate offices meant I was laid off, but the publisher did a fantastic thing by doubling my severance pay so that I could move back to Kokomo. Jimmy was so apologetic, but hey, that’s the way it goes sometimes in the news business. In fact, Jimmy ended up taking over part of my responsibilities, and he did his best as the Journal continues to limp along. (In fact, the editor-in-chief who hired me and the publisher later got their walking papers, too!)
Then last week, Jimmy gave me some great news: He’s found a new job as the deputy managing editor for the Berkshire Eagle in western Massachusetts. He starts in mid-August, and they’re moving next week. He’s only 39, so landing such a great job at a paper that cares enough about news to have 50 editorial employees seems to bode well for his future.
There were other interesting interns who came past my desk in Paducah — Brian Peach, the city reporter, who’s now in Hong Kong (yeah, I had something to do with that); C.D. Bradley, another reporter who eventually left journalism, went to law school and is now an attorney for the IRS in Atlanta; Craig Newburn, who also ended up in law in Paducah; Bryan Sinquefield, who now works as a researcher for the Library of Congress in Washington; and Nick Harnice, probably the least likely intern for us who, last I heard, works for the Secret Service.
So, yeah, I guess I did touch some lives along the way. Thanks, Doc, I feel much better now.