Newspapermen and damn proud of it

The quiet amid the storm. An Israeli soldier guards a young boy at the prayer wall in the old city of Jerusalem. (Photos by Doug Thompson)
The Washington Post during coverage of Watergate with reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (center) and legendary editor Ben Bradlee (right) and publisher Katharine Graham (left).
Newspaperman at 17, working for The Roanoke Times.

Hardly a week goes by without a longtime friend or colleague loses his or her job at a newspaper in America.

A friend and colleague lost his longtime job in a sudden move that eliminated his position on the day after Labor Day.

Print journalism, I’m told repeatedly, is a dying profession.

Which is ironic, since I spend most of my working hours and days writing and shooting photos for newsprint.

Two weeks ago came news of changes, cuts and destruction of archives and other materials at The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, which is now owned by Hearst, which moved what remains of the paper’s staff out of its longtime home in a building owned on the primary downtown street in the Mississippi River city just up north of St. Louis.

For 12 years, I wrote news and feature stories, shot photos and was Weekend Editor at the Telegraph. By the time Amy and I left Alton in 1969 with just about everything we owned in a Hertz rental truck for the 700 miles drive to Arlington, Virginia, to become press secretary and legislative assistant to Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois.

We planned to spend “a couple of years” in the nation’s capital to “learn a little about how government worked” with hopes to return to newspapers to put that knowledge to work.

That two years turned into more than a dozen as I went from Findley to Congressman Manuel Lujan of New Mexico as communications assistant, then Rep. Dan Burton as chief of staff, then back to Lujan as “special assistant to the ranking member of the House Science & Technology Committee and, finally, Division Vice President to the National Association of Realtors.

Caption from MacWorld: Doug Thompson, administrative assistant to Congressman Dan Burton, is Capitol Hill’s unofficial Macintosb expert. He uses Macs to run a completely automated office.

I did not return to journalism until 1994, when I started freelancing for newspapers and news websites and started Capitol Hill Blue, which celebrates its 24th anniversary on October 1 as the oldest continuously-published political news website on the Internet.  We left the national capital region in 2004 to move to Floyd County, a return to the place where I worked for The Floyd Press while attending high school from 1962 to 65.

As a contract reporter-photographer for The Floyd Press, I cover county government, Circuit Court and shoot photos of high school sports, music events and features for the Press and other newspapers for BH Media, the news chain owned by billionaire Warren Buffett.

In many ways, I have come full circle in the half-century that began writing and shooting news photos for The Farmville Herald in Prince Edward County at age 10 and continued through the decades covering local news and features, national news events around the country and worldwide, including hot spots and conflicts.

The quiet amid the storm. An Israeli soldier guards a young boy at the prayer wall in the old city of Jerusalem. (Photo by Doug Thompson)

After spending time covering the conflict in Afghanistan in 2003, I had an offer to cover the Iraq invasion later that year but declined after longtime wife, partner, lover and friend Amy asked me not to go.

For the first time in decades, I did not have a “go bag” by the front door, packed with clothing, a laptop and camera and ready to hit the road whenever the phone rang and an assignment came.

I thought those days had ended but that fantasy disappeared when the phone rang at our home in Floyd on the morning of April 16, 2007, from an assignment editor who needed photos and coverage of the shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  My photos of that tragedy appeared in newspapers and on news sites around the world.

Emails and phone calls still arrive from editors who need video of some news event or shots of a candidate campaigning in the area.  I shoot news video for CNN and MSNBC when needed, provide photos or video to wire services and still receive assignments and requests from the Washington Post, New York Times and other national media sources.

I’m a newspaperman first and foremost and damn proud of the title.  I’m part of “the enemy of the people” says scandal-ridden president Donald Trump and relish the title.  Being considered an enemy of a corrupt president is a badge of honor.

Legendary Chicago newsman Finley Peter Dunne used one one of his legendary alter egos, Mr. Dooley, to declare that it is “the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Damn right.


© 2004-2021 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse