My Last Words -- The confessions of a subjective journalist
Twelve years ago this month I jumped from the deck of the Daily Titanic and swam away from the sinking newspaper business. So far, so good.
March 9, 2009
No one sane ever went into journalism for the money, and neither did I -- which was a good thing. I've made my first million as a professional newspaper writer/editor but it took nearly 36 years.
Like many in my financially and technologically battered business, I went into journalism because I wanted to be a writer.
But I also felt a duty to try to right the left-liberal imbalance of the news media, which was even more lopsided in the early 1970s without talk radio, cable TV, Fox News and the Internet.
I've not won fame or big prizes. But I've had a lucky and rewarding career as a feature writer, reporter, columnist, letters editor and book/ TV reviewer.
With time out for bartending and a brief stint at CBS in Hollywood, I've worked, in order, at a suburban weekly in Cincinnati (1973-1977), the Los Angeles Times (1979-1989), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1989-2000) and the Pittsburgh Trib.
By my rough count, I've written at least 1,000 words a week -- nearly 2 million career words. That includes more than 1,000 newspaper opinion pieces. Only my mother has read and liked them all.
As a reporter, I've tried my best to be accurate, fair and truthful. I've always been aware of the difference between news and opinion, between balance and bias, and between being a government watchdog and a government lapdog.
And I have always known that every journalist and every editor I have ever worked with was helplessly subjective in their politics and in their definition of what news and bias were and were not.
Trust me, big-city daily newspapers don't go out of their way to achieve ideological diversity.
About 90 percent of my workmates over the years were either avowed liberal Democrats or didn't know it. Reagan Republicans were virtually nonexistent. Until I got to the Trib, I was always the staff's lonely libertarian.
I've had a long pleasure cruise on the now-listing ship of newspaper journalism.
I've had adventures only journalists can have: A trip to Peru to ride a freight train into the Andes.
Chasing tornadoes for a week at a time in Kansas -- twice.
Flying through Hurricane Bonnie in 1998 at 10,000 feet and then waking up in her eye when she came ashore in North Carolina.
Weather didn't provide my scariest moments, by the way. Nor did interviewing Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis face-to-face. Nor did spending an hour alone with actor James Woods.
It was meeting Michael Jackson's father Joe.
In 36 years, I've watched a dozen movies being made. I've spent quality time with or interviewed too many famous, important or smart people to recount -- from actor Jimmy Stewart and drug guru Timothy Leary to Tommy Lasorda and Milton Friedman.
I've shaken hands with Hillary Clinton and Karl Rove when neither knew I was a working journalist. I've eaten a bag lunch with Jane Jacobs. I’ve helped elderly John Kenneth Galbraith down a flight of stairs and I've been helped on with my raincoat by William F. Buckley Jr.
Sadly, this is my final column as an employee of the Trib. I've decided to take a modest buyout. I'm not retiring. I'm just leaving daily newspaper journalism to see what happens to me for the last third of my life.
I've tried my best to make newspaper journalism more interesting, entertaining and politically balanced. I had my fun. I afflicted my enemies and comforted my friends. I have no regrets.
Now it's time to freelance, teach a journalism class and write some books, including my memoir, which has the working title "Confessions of a Subversive Newspaper Man."
Thanks to everyone for reading my words. Especially you, Mom.
Since I retired I’ve piled on another million words or so — ghostwriting, writing commentaries, writing two books. 30 Days a Black Man (2017) retells the amazing, forgotten and true story of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette star reporter Ray Sprigle's undercover mission through the Jim Crow South in 1948. Dogging Steinbeck (2013) exposed the truth about the fictions and fibs in Travels With Charley and celebrated Flyover America and its people.