It’s a wonderful life

I am having a wonderful life.

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in the horrible deeds that men do in the name of politics and power, I forget that.

So tonight, I hopped on my one-speed Schwinn and pedaled off into the twilight to explore the UW-L campus and to indulge in some reminiscing.

This is living on the edge, I thought. After all, it was almost dark and I might encounter lithe and athletic college students as I wobbled my way through the near-dark.

But, as has always been the story of my life, it didn’t happen. Instead, I encountered a pair of inept skateboarders who were even more wobbly on their boards than I was on my slow-moving bicycle.

And for that, I am grateful. Life has never turned out as I expect and that is a bonus.

When I decided to become a reporter in the fifth grade, I didn’t really understand what that would mean. I figured I would write and, even at that age, that is what I loved to do.

I certainly never expected that I would end up reviewing heavy metal bands, pop music, country and theater productions.

That was the bonus. And I was the least likely person I could have imagined to be doing that.

But when the director of the old Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium called over to the Tribune office one afternoon and said there was a free ticket waiting if someone would come over and review the Heart concert, I stood up and yelled, “Me, me, me.  I’ll do it.”

“You’ll have to do it on your own time,” I was told, because at that time I was doing mostly copy editing and the Tribune wasn’t about to pay anyone to hang out at a concert.

“No problem,” I told them.

The problem was that I had never been to the Mary E. Sawyer before. Fairly new to town and brand new to reviewing, I wasn’t familiar with the building.

I soon found out that management did not police the use of marijuana and joints were passed around freely, even to strangers. Though I can truthfully say I never smoked one of those joints, I must admit I inhaled because the old Mary E. had a dreadful ventilation system.

I was so sick by the time I got back to the Tribune, I could barely write. Luckily, back then we were an afternoon paper so I could take an hour to write that review.

I never looked back from that first review. When they built the La Crosse Center, the Tribune decided they needed an entertainment reporter and because I was already doing it on my own time, I got the gig.

I also covered, art, poetry, books, theater, folk music and sheep shearing. Yes, there were a few rodeos, historic home renovations, interviews with jet pilots, aerial artists, clowns and some WWF heavyweights.

And, yes, I got paid for all of this.

That’s why it felt just right to be pedaling through the UW-L campus because of all the theater, music and art I had encountered there. And because I am now older and aware of the dangers of the dark, I managed to make it home in time to watch part of the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC.

Yes, now I watch 24-hour news channels.  Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow have some pretty peppy political repartee on any given night.  Talk about a walk on the wild side. It’s not Metallica, but it’s still a pretty wonderful life.

 

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Where have all the writers gone?

It seems my Facebook feed has been inundated this week with slash-and-burn cuts at a variety of newspapers. And the La Crosse Tribune announced new deadlines as the printing of the paper moves out of town.

It’s dismaying and disappointing, but not at all surprising.

If ever an industry did not see the writing on the wall, it is the newspaper industry. For an industry of communication, we did a poor job of communicating the importance of what was happening to news as Facebook and other online platforms came roaring into the news mix. (See how I used those new-fangled technology terms there?)

Management ignored the obvious for many years and then started cutting all their best people in an attempt to save money. That gutted operations and left newspapers with little content to attract the people who were already reading the paper, and certainly not luring in new readers.

Though I have been “retired” for six years now (forced out with no notice on a sunny Tuesday in June), I still feel like a newspaper reporter. So all of this is extremely painful to witness.

And beyond the ink that runs in my veins (my dad was a hot-metal printer so this is my personal history), I just love to hold a newspaper in my hands and peruse the news.

I don’t do that much anymore and it makes me sad.

The more practical of my acquaintances have told me to get over it and just enjoy reading online.

I’ve got news for you guys — ain’t gonna’ happen.

Nobody gets to tell me how I absorb the news. You can make it more difficult for me, but you can’t make me like it.

I was the dinosaur that was dragged kicking and screaming from my Remington toward computers and technology. I was convinced onto Facebook before my ouster from the Tribune but never did jump on to Twitter. In evaluation after evaluation where I was criticized for my lack of technological expertise, I told my bosses they needed at least one reporter who still wrote honest-to-goodness stories, not two-line tweets. They finally gave in and just let me write.

I know a few other old dinosaurs who missed the vigorous pounding on a manual typewriter keyboard. It made deadline seem more urgent. The keyboard clacking mixed with shouts across the newsroom and the ringing of telephones as City Editor Larry Olson would yell, “Give birth, give birth, we have a paper to get out!”

Call me crazy, but I loved that.

 

One of my arts sources was standing by desk one day at deadline and I must have yelled, which rattled him. Yelling happened a lot in the newsroom so I didn’t even notice when it was coming from me. But he called me later that day and told me he found it very upsetting.

“But wasn’t it exciting to be in the newsroom at deadline?” I asked him, after apologizing.

“No,” he said. “You scared me.”

I don’t get to scare anybody much these days. No deadlines loom, the telephone rarely rings, and there’s no clacking sound as I pound on my computer keyboard in the quiet of my home office.

I feel like we should be having a funeral for all the daily newspapers that are dying off. I’ve written the eulogy; now, it’s time for a drink.