Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 29, 2012

Job shadow students at the office revive memories of ‘dinosaur’ days

A lot of memories are coming back. Right now, two visitors from Bluefield High School are visiting the Telegraph to learn more about the news business. Aramus Wimmer wants to become a writer, and her classmate Jocelyn Davis wants to be a photographer.

I came in early to greet them and show them some of the routine tasks we handle in the morning. After securing my morning coffee — decaf with a shot of regular — I call the local 911 centers and law enforcement agencies to see if anything major such as a crash or structure fire has happened during the morning. On this particular Wednesday morning, a McDowell County 911 dispatcher had something for me. A man driving home from his night job was going down Route 16 in Coalwood when he suddenly noticed smoke coming out of his 2007 Malibu. He stopped, lifted the hood and discovered a small fire. This small fire quickly became a big fire that engulfed the car. The Coalwood Volunteer Fire Department put out the fire, and there were no injuries or other property damage. The driver said he would pick up the car later.

Our guests watched while I performed this daily task. I started remembering that time years ago when I was the young visitor trying to learn more about the journalism profession. That was the age prior to the Internet, and there were actually some reporters still using that dying example of technology, the typewriter. Office computers were a fairly new idea back then.

I was expected to ask a variety of questions about the news business and its daily operations — I think I asked most of them — and draft a report about my experiences later. The students had some questionnaires, too, and I was soon answering inquires about dress codes, possibilities for promotion and what I liked and disliked about the job. I told them that we have a relaxed dress code on Fridays, but we still try to be presentable. I like the variety the job offers — no two days are exactly alike. Sometimes I dislike the odd work hours, but those come with the territory.

Naturally, I was soon telling them horror stories and about the stranger occurrences I’ve covered during my 20-plus years at the Telegraph. I recalled the case of the man who hid in a store’s ceiling after he spotted a Tazewell County deputy’s cruiser and decided that the police were searching for him. It turned out that he wasn’t wanted for anything.

To illustrate the fact that you never know how your day is going unfold, I told our visitors about how I arrived one morning expecting a slow day. About two hours later, I was participating in the first televised news conference after the Virginia Tech shootings. Journalist Katie Couric was sitting three rows behind me. What followed was two days of organized chaos as reporters and news crews from around the world descended on Blacksburg, Va.

Aramus said she wants to be a writer, and I promised her that working in journalism would expose her to a very wide range of experiences. I’m sure my own experiences alone would provide fodder for several novels. Jocelyn said she enjoys taking photographs, and I assured her that she would find plenty of chances to do that in the news business.

The profession has changed a lot since I first arrived in the Telegraph’s newsroom. We once focused only on the daily paper and some special sections, but now we do Internet, video, a women’s magazine and more. When I started in the news business, I had to find a pay phone or a good soul if I wanted to call the office while I was out in the field. Now a cell phone rides on my belt. I had to worry about making sure I had film for my camera. Now I have to make sure the batteries on my digital camera are fully charged.

I couldn’t have imagined any of this when I joined the newspaper about 25 years ago. It’s really been 25 years? That show “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had premiered, and I know that I came to Bluefield not long before that event. I had never heard of Bluefield until I saw the name on a sign along Interstate 77. I was driving to Georgia to interview for a job I didn’t get. Not for a second did I imagine that Bluefield, Princeton and Mercer County would become my home. Now I can’t really imagine being anywhere else. I also couldn’t imagine how much the region would change.

I left Mercer County for a teaching job a few years ago, but I ended up being miserable.

Basically, I was trying to teach writing skills to high school students who couldn’t compose anything bigger than a text message. There were times when I thought I was through with news, but I kept feeling the urge. One day I was out for a walk when I saw a crash site. Somebody had clipped the lower half off a telephone pole. The pole’s top was still dangling in the cables. Part of me longed for a clipboard and an excuse to walk over and grill the firefighters, and I wanted a camera because it looked like such a good front-page photo; instead, I had to worry about getting my lesson plans ready for the next day. When teaching didn’t work out, I jumped at the chance to return to journalism with all its stress and rewards. Trying to teach classrooms full of high school students made reporting look like a vacation.

What sort of changes will our young guests see in the next quarter century? Will we still have printed newspapers?

I hope we have them. I look at the Internet a lot, but the old-fashioned part of me still wants a newspaper or magazine in my hands. And I don’t know what I would do if books, real books with covers, ever faded into history.

Maybe someday they will be the veterans hosting the hopeful students. I hope they remember the dinosaur that helped introduce them to the news business.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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