The reporter as a young man

Many polls say most Americans get up every morning and go to work at a job they hate.

I’ve been lucky enough to work — for the most part of my life — in a profession that I love.

I fell in love with photojournalism at 12 when I read an article in Boys Life magazine about Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer.  A year later, I read a book called “Do You Belong in Journalism,” featuring essays by various newspapermen, including Robert M. White II, editor of the Mexico, Missouri Ledger.

“Journalism,” White wrote, “is a profession for people who can’t possibly do anything else.”

From that time forward, I knew I wanted to be a reporter and photographer.

Fortunately, some good journalists took an interest in my love for journalism and mentored me:  Ben Bowers, then city editor of The Farmville Herald, which published my first story and photos when I was 13, and Pete Hallman, owner of The Floyd Press, who hired me at age 15 as a reporter and photographer.

Both taught me a lot about journalism at an early age.  Hallman later introduced me to Fred Leoffler, state editor of The Roanoke Times, who hired me as a correspondent at 16, while I was still in high school.

Leoffler talked The Times into hiring me as a copy boy when I graduated from Floyd County High School in 1965.  A year later, I became the paper’s youngest fulltime reporter, working evenings while attending what was then the University of Virginia‘s Roanoke campus during the day.

Two reporters at the Times — Mel “Buster” Carrico and Ben Beagle — taught me more about writing than any journalism school and Jake Gaking — an incredible photographer — mentored me in news photography.

Carrico, an icon among political reporters in Virginia, provided a hands-on education on the nuances of politicians and government. Beagle, the paper’s columnist, could bring my all-too-often ego down in a heartbeat with a look or a sharp critique of my writing.

After five years at The Times, I moved on to The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois — a gig that lasted 11 years before I forgot Robert M. White’s advice that my chosen profession was something for people who can’t do anything else.  I accepted a job as press secretary for then-Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois.

I rationalized the decision to leave the journalism by calling it a two-year sabbatical to learn about Washington from the inside so I could return to newspapers with a fresh perspective.

But politics is a seductive mistress and my two-year “sabbatical” turned into a 10-year journey through the dark side.  I made a lot of money but didn’t really like what I was doing.  I downed my misery in alcohol.

My wake-up call came on June 6, 1994, when — like too many alcoholics — I hit bottom and took the first step into Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery.  I picked up my cameras again and starting writing as well.

That return to journalism also signaled a return to happiness.  I launched a political news web site in 1994 and it remains on the Internet today.  I signed on with a news agency as a contract photojournalist and worked for magazines and newspapers.

When the 2004 Presidential elections came to an end, I walked off a plane at Dulles Airport outside Washington for the end of my last full-time assignment.  A month later, Amy and I closed on the sale of our condo in Arlington and bought a house in Floyd County.

But semi-retirement did not mean an end to doing what I love.  I went to work as a contract writer and photographer for The Floyd Press and continue to write and shoot for them.  Other news services came calling for coverage of news and issues in Southwestern Virginia.

I may be retired but I’m still doing what I love and when you love your job it’s never really work.

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