SURRATT: Happy anniversary to me
Published 4:00 am Friday, February 24, 2023
This month, I celebrated an anniversary of sorts.
In February of 1979 — 44 years ago — I took over as editor of the Baker Observer, a small weekly in Baker, La., a town of then about 12,000 people about 40 miles north of Baton Rouge. It was the start of a very interesting and sometimes frustrating career that has involved three states, many moves and sometimes my sanity.
Looking back, it’s hard for me to figure out how I ended up chronicling the events of small towns, but when I think about it, the signs that I would one day be seated at a computer or chasing a wreck or fire with a camera were there the whole time.
Email newsletter signup
It started with my interest in newspapers; time spent at the LSU Library reading publications like England’s Manchester Guardian and newspapers from other cities. And there was D.H. Culbert, a professor of history who taught U.S. diplomatic history at LSU and gave us the assignment to pick a newspaper from any month in 1898 and write a paper on how they covered the Spanish-American War. I chose William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Hearst’s papers were full of Spanish atrocities against the Cubans, but what interested me more was the other news in the paper.
Dr. Culbert pushed me further toward journalism when he gave me a “B” on a term paper because of my writing style. That, and a decision to write about history as it happened rather than after, drove me to journalism school and later to work as a part-time reporter/photographer for a weekly newspaper in Plaquemine, La., about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge. When one of my journalism professors learned I was working at a paper, he told me, “You’re probably learning more working over there than you are here.”
He was right.
Since those beginnings, my career has taken me to cities in Louisiana, North Alabama and Mississippi. At times, this career has been a royal pain and like the reporter Hildy Johnson in the play “The Front Page,” I’ve tried — unsuccessfully — to get out but working in this business is more than just a career; it’s an addiction. You get in, you get hooked; you can’t get out. I sympathize with Michael Corleone in “Godfather III” when he says, “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”
My career has been enjoyable despite the bumps. I’ve been able to do things and go places that I otherwise would have only dreamed about. I’ve met some very interesting people along the way and my life has been richer for that. And all through it all I’ve had the support of my family; how they managed to hang around and not leave me has always been a source of wonder. They’ve got to be saints.
When I finally write my last words, I’ll have great memories, but there won’t be a book. I couldn’t afford the lawyers.