OK, the last post about MPA, I promise. (In case you missed the rambling thus far, and don’t care enough to read, I went to Biloxi Friday for my former editor’s induction into the Mississippi Press Association Hall of Fame.)
I went. And was glad I did.
I don’t know if Jim knew I was coming or not. He acted like he was surprised, and I was going to honor that. Whether he was surprised or not, he was glad — Jim hugged me at least three times in the first five minutes I was there. I was one of only two of his former employees to attend the induction. Which also meant that Jim and Cynthia invited me to sit with them at the reserved VIP table up front, which was a very cool experience.
The induction was great. Jim is, if not sui generis, at least a legend from a better age of newspapers. It was wonderful to see him getting the honor he deserved. I loved his acceptance speech. Such a humble man. If he has any idea how brilliant he is, it’s only because he believes in what he does — in other words, it’s not that he himself is great, but that if you do things this way, the results will be great. The truth is a combination of both, of course.
And it was flattering to be mentioned in the acceptance speech. I loved the manner in which Jim bragged on me, looking across the crowd of editors and publishers and asking how many of them could claim their paper produced someone who works for NASA. And he read part of one of my stories during a lighthearted part of his speech — the report about the guy who stole over a thousand condoms from the local health department; a story which got Indianola mentioned on Leno. I’d forgotten how good my lede to that story was. You know, I really wasn’t bad at this.
And that was another part of the experience. I got to talk to another former boss, Gary Andrews, my general manager in Houston, and one of the few superiors I really liked and respected from my year away from Jim. We had a great conversation, but he talked about the potential that I had, and that if I ever decided to come back to the industry, he would help in any way he could. That, and the whole evening, made me realize, I could have been good at this. Heck, I was good at it. I could have been great. Made me wonder what might have been.
Conversely, however, it was very interesting being at Hall of Fame for the first time ever and not thinking “Someday…” This time, I knew … that’s never going to be me. Not necessarily because I couldn’t, but because I won’t. But, more than that, because of the way things have changed. People like Jim, who because synonymous with their community, are increasingly few and far between. And that’s what I would have wanted to do, what I would have wanted to be. I had, and have, no desire to be the guy that some chain puts in some town for a little while before the next changing of the guard. I wanted to serve a community. And that’s not what the business is about anymore.
Along those lines, the optimism was rather depressing. The outgoing and incoming presidents of the press association both decried the rumors of the death of the newspaper industry. And, to be sure, with good evidence. But the fact that so much time was spent denying the impending doom was not particularly heartening; the last time I attended, many moons ago, no one felt the need.
I came out of it with much the same sense I had going in — there is hope. The local community newspaper offers a product that no one else can offer, that no one else can compete with. But I have never seen an industry so determined to shoot itself in the foot. (Including the music industry five years ago, and that’s saying something.)
It WAS good seeing old friends. It was good making new friends. It was good talking shop with people who are still passionate about what they do, what I did. It was good seeing that there is still hope; that the battle isn’t over, and is still being fought.
But it was also good being able to leave and come home afterwards.