On my 21st birthday, I became a copy editor and designer, working my first shift at The Battalion in an underground room in the ugliest building on the Texas A&M campus.
It was in the next few months that I would begin learning from the professor who would inspire me the most. Bob Rogers was not a lifetime academic, but a man who immersed himself in the newspaper business, starting in college. He had a fine and successful in-the-trenches career until, at 40 years old, he decided to do something else and became a professor of journalism.
That, I decided, was what I would do.
The first problem with that plan emerged about half a decade ago. I was in the process of preparing to get the necessary certification to become a teacher when I took a good look at that idea for the first time. And I decided I hated education.
Not really, but that was the gist of it. I had no desire to go back to school. No desire to enter another career where idealism is given a good stomping by money (and, additionally when it comes to education, politics). And what would I teach? Journalism? And spend my time quoting studies and statistics with lifetime academics? Not a chance.
Would I stand in front of Internet-raised kids and try to teach them English, as defined by the TAKS test? No way. History? Doomed to regret it. Geography? Shit. Today's generation couldn't cross the fucking street without a GPS-enabled iPhone.
But as the years moved on toward 40, I couldn't keep on as a copy editor. Becoming the old man of the desk: "Back in my day we had an onion on our pica pole …"
Well, turns out, I didn't miss it by much. On Monday, two weeks after my 40th birthday, I start my first new job in a decade, and my first ever that doesn't involve newsprint. (I'm not counting those two months as a construction worker. That was an experience, not a job.)
Yes, I will be an Online Producer. All the news that's fit to click "publish now." It will be a whole new world.
But this blog is a salute to the one I leave behind. I'm wrapping up my final week as a newspaper man. A last Page One done. One business section done. Five more business sections to go. For the record, the Aug. 1 "Tech Monday" will be my last two pages.
I'm not lamenting the end of my line-editing days. I may very well do that again. And my news job will involve plenty of news judgment, breaking news and the writing of headlines, cutlines and other display type, a specialty of mine.
But after Friday, I will not design another newspaper page. I'm sure of that.
Shannon cut short my nostalgia over the weekend: "You're still working for a newspaper." But, no, it's not really the same. I haven't opened my big box of saved newspapers (though, you can rest assured that I will), but I recall plenty off the top of my head:
"Tornado Roars Into El Dorado," and "The Storm." Fistfulls of Sunday Business sections from San Angelo, including the baseball card, the trains and Dollar Man! There's all those sports sections from Beaumont, as well as the Clinton impeached Page One. From San Angelo's Act II, there's the "Time of Drought" page, dozens of Music feature fronts and the 9/11 extra. Here in Austin, there's not as many that I individually recall, but plenty of good work.
I have a stack of stuff at my desk at work right now, ready to head for the box, if they make the cut. They'll be there waiting for an old man to peruse through them every decade or so. And then, ultimately, for his kids to say "what do we do with this shit?"
Don't get me wrong. I'm ready to do something new. Happy to be learning new skills. Absolutely thrilled to even have a new job in the face of copy desk consolidation.
But it's weird to think of a future where I won't be picking up a paper from the press, looking at it in my hand and telling myself, "yeah, I kicked the shit out of this one." (Because that's happened once or twice.)
Weird, yes. And a little sad, too, I guess.
The real question is: What will I design now?