So many stories, so little time.
The responsibility of filling a full newspaper page with outdoor-related content every week has pluses and minuses.
On the plus side, one is seldom at a loss for things to do. West Virginians love to hunt and fish, and they generate a rich trove of story ideas.
On the minus side, week-to-week responsibilities often prevent reporters from exploring some stories to the depth they deserve. A former boss put it this way: “A newspaper is like a giant Pac-Man that eats stories, and it must be continuously fed.”
For a newspaper with a small staff, feeding the Pac-Man becomes a double-edged sword. If they manage to maintain the paper’s day-to-day story flow, reporters sometimes have to forsake projects that might require weeks or months to fully investigate.
An example: For several years, I’ve wanted to do a multi-part, in-depth report about some West Virginia magistrates’ tendency to let game- and fish-law violators get away with their crimes.
Magistrates in some counties dismiss 70% to 80% of the cases that come before them each year. Magistrates in other counties dismiss only a handful of cases.
The Division of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Section maintains a database that keeps track of each county’s conviction and dismissal percentages. I’ve seen the numbers. They aren’t pretty, but to be reported fairly, they’d require a ton of time to research.
Someone would have to visit each county and go through the records to determine which magistrates were upholding the law and which were playing catch-and-release. The catch-and-release magistrates would then need to be contacted and given a chance to comment on their performance.
Likewise, DNR law enforcement officials who express frustration with certain magistrates would need to be interviewed. The scofflaw magistrates would then need to be re-contacted to respond to the DNR comments.
I hope someday a reporter will have the time and the resources to do the story. It won’t be me, though. This is my last column for the Gazette-Mail.
It’s been a fun ride. My career as an outdoors writer has taken me to places I never thought I’d go. I’ve seen sights I never believed I’d see, and I’ve done things I never dreamed I’d do.
But lately I’ve slowed down.
It happens to folks my age. Try as we might to remain fit and active, there comes a time when we can’t follow the rugged road like we used to. We’re not as strong, our sense of balance gets a bit wonky, and our stamina isn’t as good.
Doing anything takes more time — more time to prepare, more time to do, and more time to recover afterward. With that in mind, it occurs to me that if I’m going to go fishing and turkey hunting as much as I’d like, I’m going to need a lot more time. Forty extra hours a week sounds just about right.
It’s hard to say goodbye, though.
It’s especially hard when you’ve been friends with a group of people for almost 42 years. They’ve shared their experiences with you, and you’ve shared your experiences with them — the tragedies, the triumphs, the hardships and the happy times.
But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
You’ll still see my byline show up in the Gazette-Mail from time to time. When an outdoors-related story piques my interest and the editors want me to write it, I’ll do so — but only when I’m not out fishing or hunting.
Take care. Be safe. Be well.
Most of all, be kind.