Wow. Where did 40 years go?
Four decades ago this week, my first outdoors column appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail. Since then, writing for the Daily Mail, the Charleston Gazette and the combined Gazette-Mail, I’ve written more than 2,100 columns and close to 5,000 features and news articles.
Goodness only knows how many photos I’ve taken; tens of thousands, probably.
I’ve interviewed hundreds, maybe even thousands of people. I’ve made friends and, quite possibly, a few enemies.
It’s been a fun and fascinating journey, and it all happened because I got curious and asked a question.
My wife worked for the Daily Mail at the time, and I worked just across the street at WOWK-TV. From time to time, I’d drop into the Daily Mail newsroom to touch base with her. I got to know some of the staff, including some of the higher-ups.
During one of my visits, I asked editor Sam Hindman what had happened to the weekly outdoors column written by a fellow named Harry Lynch. Sam explained that Harry and the paper had agreed to part ways.
I asked Sam if he planned to find another outdoors writer. He asked if I knew of anyone who might be interested.
“Yeah. Me,” I replied.
“Write a couple of sample columns and give them to [managing editor] Bob Kelly. He’ll let me know if you can write,” Sam said.
That evening, I went home, hauled out my old manual Underwood typewriter, and wrote a couple of 500-word columns. A day or two later, I got a call from Sam.
“Bob says you can write,” he said. “We’ll pay you $25 per column.”
I left WOWK not long after that and went back to school to get an engineering degree. For eight years, while I was in school and after I graduated and started working in the engineering field, I cranked out one to two outdoors columns a week as well as an occasional feature story.
I also free-lanced for local, regional and national magazines. I soon found that I enjoyed writing about hunting and fishing more than I enjoyed punching the keys of a calculator.
One day during the summer of 1988, I got a call from Jim Smith, the Daily Mail’s managing editor at the time.
“No one told me you had a journalism degree!” he said.
I pointed out that no one had ever asked.
“Would you consider coming to work for us full-time as our outdoors editor and environmental reporter?”
“I might. What will it pay?”
He named a figure that was roughly equivalent to the salary I was making at the company I worked for at the time.
“Let me think about it.” I replied. “Yes.”
Three weeks later, fresh of a week-long fishing trip to the Yellowstone area, I walked into the Daily Mail newsroom for the first time as a full-time employee. The city editor, Nanya Friend, jokingly asked me if I had any stories ready to publish.
“If you’ll look in the remote queue, you’ll find a 25-inch story on the Yellowstone fires,” I said with a sly grin. The look on her face was priceless.
That was the first day on a long, fun-filled ride that, I hope, won’t end any time soon. And to think, it all started with a simple question. Go figure.