By James Mack Adams
I don’t remember the first time someone called me a journalist. I do remember I was pleased because I considered the title a compliment. I still do. After doing a little research on the subject, however, I am not certain whether my current contributions to this newspaper justify that label.
Miriam-Webster defines ‘journalist’ as one who collects, writes and edits news stories for newspapers, magazines, television and radio. That’s not exactly what I presently do. My writings in this space are more observation and commentary than what is commonly referred to as ‘hard news.’ That’s why this column is printed in the ‘Viewpoint’ section. So, I guess the correct title for what I do is ‘columnist.’ I’ll take that.
‘Journalist’ seems to now be popular as a general term to describe anyone involved in any way in news reporting or commentary. Before they were called journalists, newspaper people were called reporters. Before that, they were called newspaper ‘men.’ At the time, women were still a minority in newsrooms.
I can still see a mental picture of the newspaper man as often portrayed in old black and white Hollywood movies I watched years ago. I see a man at his desk in the city newsroom using two fingers to pound out a hot news story on an old Remington or Royal typewriter. (Younger readers might want to ask an older person what a typewriter is.) The sleeves of his white dress shirt are rolled to the elbow. His tie is loosened and askew. His hat, with his press pass stuck in the band, is pushed back on his head. A lighted cigarette is dangling from his lips. My, how times have changed.
Please allow me to do a little side-track editorializing. The news media has been taking quite a hit lately. Reporters are being maligned and threatened, and news organizations are being called enemies of the people. They say all is fair in love, war, and politics, but that doesn’t make it less scary. I was around during the 1930s when the same thing was happening in Germany. A free press is one of the pillars of a democracy. Lose either one and you lose the other.
We are hearing the term ‘fake news’ being used a lot these days. To me, that term is an oxymoron. If it is fake, it is not news. End of editorializing.
You might say I entered newspaper work through the back door. I seem to be in the right place at the right time when it comes to publishing opportunities.
My first newspaper experience was editing the Tybee News, a community monthly for residents of Tybee Island, Georgia. I was also the reporter, staff writer, copy editor, layout person, and circulation manager. It was a one-man operation.
Then, my first big break happened. One of the editors at the Savannah (Georgia) Morning News liked my idea for a weekly column dealing with Savannah and coastal Georgia history. He decided to take a chance on a relatively unknown writer with little experience and no journalism degree. I must say I was thrilled when I was issued press credentials and given the opportunity to write for several thousand readers.
I enjoyed my almost eight years of writing the “Historically Speaking” column for the Morning News. Meeting the weekly deadlines was stressful at times. I spent many hours exploring Savannah’s historic district and doing research at the Georgia Historical Society. It was a labor of love. The experience was very gratifying. Also, it lead to four books.
When I left Savannah and moved to Erwin, I assumed my newspaper writing days were over. That was not the case. One day I had a sit down with former Erwin Record publisher, Keith Whitson. He was soon going to be short a columnist and offered me the chance to come aboard. Without any hesitation, I accepted. Once again, I was in the right place at the right time. Thanks Lisa and Keeli for your continuing support.
It is now going on two years since that sit down with Keith. Time sure flies when you’re having fun. At that first meeting, I asked Keith what I should write about in the column. “Just have fun with it,” he replied. That is exactly what I am doing.