September 22, 2020

Professor’s challenge helped redirect future

            By the way he strutted, you could tell he was enjoying his rookie professorship.   As he stood before us—sharply dressed in a glen plaid sport coat, a starched oxford-cloth shirt, a striped silk tie, crisp khakis and spit-shined, oxblood Bass Weejuns—he pushed up his tortoiseshell eyeglasses and gave us a menacing stare.

            “I need you to know,” he scowled, “I have never given an A+, and I don’t expect to give one this quarter.”

            If I had been sitting in a quantum physics or calculus class, I would have thought, “Ummmm, there’s no danger of me breaking that record.”

            But the textbook that he was thumping was The PRESS and AMERICA, AnInterpretative History of Journalism.  (I just paused and plucked it from my bookcase.)  This wasn’t about using a slide rule or an empty pocket in my brain.  He was talking about one of my favorite subjects—history—and required memorization. 

            I was up for the challenge.  

            His tests were multiple choice.

            If you attended every class, you got an idea of what he thought was important.  At night, I’d reread the day’s material and underline what he had stressed.  (I just paused, again, and thumbed through the 801 pages.  The musty smell took me back to 1969 and UGA’s Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications.)  I must have worn out a couple of blue-ink Bic pens, underlining and scribbling in the margins.

            In those days, printer’s ink hadn’t flirted with invading my veins.  A 49-year career in newspapers, nah.  But I figured a journalism degree would be a good springboard to law school.  Little did I know then that the overly confident young professor was helping to redirect my future.

            He introduced me to John Peter Zenger, whose 1735 libel-trial victory continues to resonate today.  While Zenger became a hero for free speech, it was his “Philadelphia lawyer,” Andrew Hamilton, who persuaded the court to free his client.

            On page 745, I reread what textbook author Edwin Emery wrote:

            “The obligations of any newspaper to its community are to strive for honest and comprehensive coverage of the news, and for courageous expression of editorial opinion in support of basic principles of human liberty and social progress.”

            That, our readers, is why I still do what I do.  

            I am convinced—more than ever—that strong newspapers help to build strong communities.  What you are reading at this moment is not the national media.  We are yourmedia—yournewspaper.  Prior to COVID-19, we sat by you in church.  We stopped and visited with you in the grocery store.  We cheered with you at ball games.  Our children played with your children.  We hugged your necks at funerals.

            Those days will return.  But in the meantime, we covet your continued trust and readership. Your subscription andadvertising dollars support our biggest investment—gathering, editing and disseminating the news.  The fact that we can’t hug your necks—during this pandemic—doesn’t mean that we don’t need or appreciate your loyal support. Without you, our newsrooms would be dark and growing cobwebs in the corners. 

            Without that cocksure professor, I might have become a lawyer.

            Instead, I’m entering my 50thyear of this. And after all these years, I’m still savoring at least one A+ that he said he’d never give.

            I love a challenge.

            I am glad the preppy professor urged me to study and learn more.

But most of all, I am especially grateful for you, our readers and advertisers.

Thank you.