As anniversaries go, it’s the one next year that usually prompts the celebration. But why wait?
On March 19, 1972, a Sunday afternoon, I walked into the old News Journal building on Orange Street in Wilmington for my first day of work.
In an odd way, I took the place by surprise. The editor running the city desk that day – I don’t recall whether it was Dave Oyler or Alan Mueller – didn’t know I was arriving.
And I clearly knew nothing about the dress code. Coming to work on Sunday in a jacket and tie? That’s for church, not for a weekend shift in the newsroom.
If you’re waiting for a truly memorable recollection, you won’t get it here. No big story on the first day, but I must have written a couple of obits and maybe a news brief or two. And then I rewrote them – so I’d learn to do it right.
Not nearly as exciting as my journalism school highlights – a week inside the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and three months in Washington, D.C., covering Capitol Hill for a couple of small papers in Wisconsin and Illinois — but better than nearly three mundane years I had just spent in the Navy behind a desk in Washington.
The start of my journalism career may have been inauspicious, but I’m still at it, and right where it began, something I never thought possible back in 1972. Back then, my grand plan was to spend a couple of years in Wilmington, then head back to my native New York.
Actually, that offer did come during my first summer in Delaware. But, for a variety of reasons, working a 4 to midnight shift for the New York Daily News, moving my wife and year-old son back in with my family on Long Island or the in-laws in Westchester County for a while and taking a train home at 1 in the morning just didn’t seem very appealing.
Soon after settling in at the News Journal, I found my niche – covering education. Not only was my early mentor, John Taylor, one of the most knowledgeable about Delaware as a whole and schools in particular, but he had such confidence in me that I was assigned to cover the Wilmington school desegregation suit, which was just getting started in 1972. That federal lawsuit, which broke up the city school district and set in motion a city-suburb busing plan in 1978, became a touchstone for my career.
My assignments at the newspaper changed many times over the years but, in one way or another, the desegregation theme loomed large. Indeed, in the early ‘90s, when I edited what became the immensely popular Crossroads sections of zoned weekly editions, it was my suggestion that we set up the circulation zones to match, as closely as possible, the suburban boundaries of the desegregated school districts.
My years working on Crossroads proved to be among the most rewarding of my career, partly because the sections’ intense hyperlocal coverage helped bring the paper closer to our readers but mostly because I was able to guide a team of young reporters and eager freelancers, nurturing them at the start of what would become highly successful careers.
And that brings me to where I am today – coming full circle and doing what I like the best.
Once again, I’m writing a lot about education, primarily for Delaware Public Media, and often about the equity issues that were at the heart of the desegregation suit I started following 49 years ago.
And I’m about to return to a mentoring role, spending the summer overseeing the work of a half-dozen college journalists who will be working at media outlets throughout the state under a grant received by the Delaware Community Foundation. These young reporters will have an assignment that looks at a newer equity issue: examining the impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx population in Sussex County. I’m enthused about having the opportunity to help a new generation of journalists grow.
That old adage, “what goes around comes around,” has a negative connation, but I’m pleased today to be back at my reporting and editing roots.
That makes the 49-year mark a good time to celebrate.
And next year, maybe I’ll share another mix of old memories and fresh stories.