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Mike Casazza: Moving on from an awesome situation

Gazette-Mail file photo
Gazette-Mail staff writer Mike Casazza (rear, standing) talks to WVU’s Jonathan Holton in the locker room before the start of practice to prepare for an NCAA basketball tournament game on March 17, 2016 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

MORGANTOWN — I understood what people meant when they said it. I appreciated that it was supposed to be a compliment. But I always had a negative reaction when I heard it. You could make it in a major market.

It was my hangup, to be sure, but I always felt it diminished what I was doing and where I was. For just shy of 10 years, I’ve covered West Virginia University sports for Charleston Newspapers, and I dare you to tell me the Mountaineers aren’t a major market when it comes to headlines and personalities. But this is the last thing I’ll write for the company. On Monday, I start a new job. In between start and finish we — and I’ll always say “we” — did some amazing work together. Major-market stuff, if you must.

We broke and we told the biggest stories on the beat, around the state and sometimes even in the sport. We led off SportsCenter once. We wrote, we took pictures, we captured videos, we blogged, we traveled. My goodness, did we travel. Two BCS bowls. A Final Four. Twenty-seven states. Some of the bumpiest flights, tiniest rental cars and most unforgivable bedtimes and wake-up calls.

And it was awesome. I’ll be perfectly honest with you one last time: We did things many and maybe most newspapers do not do, irrespective of size and resources. Remember, the same place just produced a Pulitzer Prize. We’ve been through a lot, sure, but we persevere and we produce.

On June 30, I turned in my two weeks notice with a 105-word letter. I can assure you it was the hardest thing I’ve had to write here, and I covered multiple state swim meets. I bet my editors can assure you it was the shortest thing I’ve written, too. Brevity has never been my strength.

I’m extraordinarily fortunate. This is all I wanted to do when I was growing up, when I was going to work at 10 p.m. to moonlight at my town paper and had to be in homeroom in the morning, when I was touring college campuses, when I was picking courses, when I was searching for internships, when I was filling out job applications and when I started off with big dreams.

This job took me around the country when so many publications will not commit to that. It let me tell stories, which is my favorite thing to do, whether in the sports section, in my book or over chicken wings. It let me live in Morgantown when the office was in Charleston. It let me write and write and write. It let me grow professionally, and that counts as a journalism professor, which I was allowed to do on the side.

And it introduced me to you and you to me.

I have a lot of cool perks, but one of the weirdest, funniest and best is that I get regular phone calls from you when you don’t know what channel the game is on. I love that. I love that I know the cable guides throughout Kanawha County. I love that I can describe the ESPN app to you over the phone and teach you how to download and use it. I love that you have a problem and I have the solution. I hope we can continue that.

I hope many things can continue. I’m confident that they can. Years back, I left a bad situation for a better situation here. In other words, I escaped. On Friday, I leave a really good situation. I am not escaping. You know that feeling you get when Bob Huggins goes deep into the NCAA tournament or Dana Holgorsen wins 10 games and you get excited about recruiting? I know this job is good enough to land a five-star prospect.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people the past 13 days. I’m sure many more will follow. Most tend to spin back to the future of newspapers. It’s not right to use this space on this day to say where I’m going and what I’m doing next, but it’s really the opposite of newspapers. And I can’t accurately explain how weird and how difficult that is to type, never mind do.

So, I get asked often about what’s next for newspapers by people who know what they mean to me. I don’t have an answer, because I don’t think we — and I suppose at this point, it is “they” — are through just yet. I’d also dare you to look around and say newspapers don’t matter. It is a restrictive business model, but the ones that do it right it can grow and prosper. I’m hopeful, no, confident this place has some exciting ideas in the ground that will grow stems, leaves and flowers and they sustain.

They won’t give up, but that’s only half of the fight. You play a part in this, too, so please don’t give up on them.

Contact Mike Casazza at 304-319-1142 or mikec@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikecasazza and read his blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/.

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