Full-time years included occasional news ‘boo-boos’|Part 4 of 5

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 8, 2009

It’s National Newspaper Week. Feature writer Gordon Cotton, also a historian, author and former director of the Old Court House Museum, prepared a five-part series on his more than 50-year association with newspapers. It continues through Friday.

For five years, starting in October 1965, I mixed the classroom and the newsroom, teaching all week at Warren Central and spending my weekends at the Post. After college, I had taught at Jett and Redwood high schools and Holmes Junior College. I loved my students, loved teaching, but the ink was still in my veins.

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I never had more considerate bosses than the three Cashmans I’ve worked for — Louis Jr., Mary Louise and Pat.

I started working full time at the Post in the summer of 1970. I missed my students, but they still came to see me during the Saturday night shifts (I was usually in the office until at least midnight).

One night Anne Logue, a wonderful student who had gone off to college, came to visit and brought a friend with her, a girl I had never seen before. I got up from my desk and with outstretched arms practically ran across the office saying things like, “Oh, you gorgeous creature,” and Anne, beaming, responded with outstretched arms — and I went right on past her and hugged her friend. I guess the devil made me do it. Anne forgave me.

In publishing a weekly, most stories can wait until the next week if you miss the deadline; not so with a daily.

Once I was sent to take a photo of the high brass of the Coast Guard being piped aboard. There was hardly time to take the pictures, get back to the office, develop the film, print it and get it on the front page before press time — but I did it and was so proud until the paper came out and it was noticed that the men were saluting with their left hands. I had printed the negative backward.

Mistakes will be made, regardless, and most of the time all you can do is grin and bear it. Once an obituary for a funeral to take place at the Catholic church told of “The Mass or the Resurrection.” Of course it should have been of, not or. My boss, Charlie Faulk, managing editor, said he was going to take his camera, just in case.

Another boo-boo occurred when Annie Lee Guider reported on a speech by the Italian ambassador who told of the “high cost of loving in Rome.” Maybe it wasn’t a mistake.

The best reply in defense of the paper, and of mistakes, was said by Charlie Mitchell many years ago to a teenage relative of mine, Adam Frost. Adam had a picky complaint, and Mitchell said, “Adam, what do you expect for 50 cents?”

Not everybody has the same talents, or so it was discovered when Howard Sit and I were sent, as most Post staffers were, to cover area football games on Friday nights. Billy Ray was sports editor, and he never had enough help — but he never sent us on another assignment.

Howard went to Tallulah and covered the wrong game, and I wrote up mine like a news story with complete sentences, correct punctuation, etc.

There was a lot of camaraderie in the newsroom, all working to put out the best paper possible, all helping one another. There was one exception. The new guy was from Pennsylvania and didn’t do a whole lot, as best I could tell. Friday afternoons were always hectic, and one of my jobs was to put together the dummies for the Sunday edition.

One day the new guy casually walked up to my desk which was piled high and said, “What can I do to help?” and I replied, “Move back to Pennsylvania.” He didn’t offer again, but he did move.

One of my favorite local journalists was V. Blaine Russell who worked for the Post for over 40 years and wrote a daily column called “Vicksburesque.” Mr. Russell never owned a car — he walked just about everywhere, hitching a ride to out-of-town spots of interest. He mixed the past with the present in his rambles. He took time to see what most people missed.

When Mr. Russell died he was about 90. The day of the funeral was hot and blustery and I along with Louis Cashman and others from the Post were pallbearers. Mr. Cashman fainted at the grave in Cedar Hill, and he was embarrassed, but his wife told him, “It’s OK, Louis, nobody even noticed — they were too busy staring at Gordon because he had on a tie.”

There were always the routine jobs that had to be done, and I envied my uncle, Ridley T. Bailey, who had a weekly in Randolph County, Ala. Space was at a premium, so one week Uncle Bailey ran a front page notice: “The Roanoke City Council met last night but didn’t do anything worth reporting.” How many meetings have I covered that weren’t worth the words that made it into print?

Mr. Cashman (Louis Jr.) loved to tell of how he sent me to another meeting — one at the Old Court House Museum to cover the story of the selection of a new director. That was in 1976.

When I came back, he asked if they had chosen one.

I said, “Yes, sir. Me.”

He realized I was serious and suggested we talk about salary and benefits. I told him I was taking a cut in pay and there were no benefits.

“Then why are you doing this?”

“I just feel like I’m supposed to.”

Telling Charlie Faulk was the hardest, but his reaction was that if I was going to leave, he didn’t know of anywhere he had rather see me go. He had known Eva Whitaker Davis, who founded the museum, had supported “Miss Eva’s” efforts to save the building.

And Mr. Cashman assured me I would always be a part of the Vicksburg Evening Post family.