Here goes …
I don’t remember the first time someone said it or why. I do remember the most recent time. And don’t get me wrong — it’s my hangup. 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.
Thanks? Thanks. Thanks!
I never handled that the way I should have or the way the words were intended to he handled. I guess I felt it diminished what I was doing and where I was, that it overlooked I was in a great place. How many schools generate headlines like West Virginia? Coaching changes and conference change. Lawsuits and senatorial interference. Contracts and construction. The seasons, the games, the wins, the losses, the players, the coaches. The friggin’ coaches! I happen to think quality transcends opportunity, too, and I’m profoundly proud of what’s happened here.
For just shy of 10 years, I’ve covered West Virginia University sports for Charleston Newspapers, first at the Daily Mail and then in a post-merger world at the Gazette-Mail. This is the last thing I’ll write here for the company. Tomorrow, a column with a similar tone appears in print. On Monday, I start a new job.
But in between start and finish we – and I’ll always say “we” because the newspaper and I couldn’t have done this separately – did some amazing work together. Major market stuff, if you will.
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, unruliest deadlines and most unforgivable bedtimes and wake-up calls.
And it was awesome.
Can I be perfectly honest with you one last time? We did things many and maybe most similarly sized newspapers, whether a bit smaller or larger, do not do. We did things larger papers with more resources do not to. I don’t think a lot of people, or at least enough people, realize that, so I want to highlight that. And though I can only speak with expertise and certainty about what I do, I can tell you there’s a commitment. It’s evident in other areas, too. Remember, the same place just produced a Pulitzer Prize.
We’ve been through a lot, sure. It’s a newspaper, and operating today mandates difficult decisions. I said goodbye to many, many good people, for one reason or another, through the years. But 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 don’t forget I covered multiple state swim meets. I’m willing to bet my editors can assure you it was the shortest thing I’ve written, too.
Brevity has never been my strength, and it is here where I tip my cap to the editors, to the people who open the files I send, quite likely with their eyes closed and an anxious breath tucked deep in their lungs on most days, and begin to unravel what I’ve sent. I’ve been writing ledes for 20 years, or should I say, I’ve been attempting to write ledes for 20 years, and I still can’t do it as well or as consistently as a copy editor deserves. But my words get in the paper, and sometimes a reader gets through that first graf and goes, “Ha!” and the job is done.
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, because I felt I needed experience taking calls and formatting agate and writing roundups. (Can you imagine giving that advice to a 17-year-old today?) This was all I wanted to do 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. And after all these years, this is still what I want to do, which means, again, I’m extraordinarily fortunate, because I get to keep doing it. Many others don’t have that option. I’m acutely aware of this, and that’s what makes today so weird to me.
I’m not leaving a bad job. Full disclosure: I’ve looked for jobs in the past. I’ve had jobs look for me. I’ve turned down jobs. And jobs have turned me down. But through all of that and from getting to know people in places, I’ve learned about the, uh, Good and the Bad of this industry. If I was fired by the Gazette-Mail today — and it’s still early! — and had to go look for a job tomorrow, I wouldn’t find a job like this.
You think about that.
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 is 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. It compensated me quite nicely.
And it introduced me to you and you to me.
This is the hard part.
This is our 5,906th post, and we are one month shy of 10 full years. That’s wild, but not as wild as oh so many of the 91,196 comments — as of 9:44 this morning — we’ve witnessed along the way. When I arrived in 2007, I pushed for this space, perhaps a little too hard, because JackBo just quit talking to me at one point. He came around, and he later starred in so many scenes. But I felt it was important, especially for a five-days-a-week newspaper, to have a secondary presence. Today, we’d call that digital. But what you and I did here, no matter how long you’ve been around, is incredible. Again, you won’t find something like this somewhere else.
The elephant has wandered into the room, so we might as well speak. I don’t want this to be goodbye. I’ve read all the comments from the past week. They mean more than I can state and did not make me feel better whatsoever, so thanks for that! I know we’re at an intersection. To the many who are going to make the journey with me, thanks. Thanks so much. To those who won’t, there are no hard feelings. I understand. Prices are prices. Luxuries are luxuries. We’re cool. I thank you for everything, too. I wish you’d give me a chance, though. Be on the lookout for promotions, and understand a lot of stuff will be free.
It’s impossible to recreate this, and I’m going to do things differently, because we all adapt and advance. The best things I and we have done here were when I and we tried something new. (Also, some of the worst things I’ve done here were when I tried something new.) I’d be stupid to abandon the model here. Tuesday Haiku? Eh, maybe not. TFGD? You’re kidding, right? It’s coming with me. I’ll have a new phone number, which is a long story, but you can have that when I get that. I trust the universe. Someone’s going to get that number to you, we’re going to have that game day experience once again and you’ll have that bright spot on a Monday morning.
And I’ll still tweet. I’ll be on Facebook more. I’ll be in my email. The message boards at the new place are interactive and, honestly, not a cesspool. Go have a look. You can get a free account. The VIP membership is an option. Everyone can reach me there. I’ll be the same person, and I’ll be mad as hell if we don’t stay in touch. You’re always going to jump to the front of my line.
If I can do one thing over there that I did here, it’d be to recreate the community we have here. This place is, with very, very few exceptions, so civil, smart, fun and welcoming, and I want everything to be like that. So, I hope we can continue. I hope many things can continue. I’m confident that they can.
Years ago, I left a bad situation for a better situation here. In other words, I escaped. This time, I’m leaving a really good situation. I am not escaping. I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people the past 12 days. I’m sure many more will follow. Most tend to spin back to the future of newspapers, because these people know what the topic means to me.
I don’t have an answer, because I don’t think we – and by now, it’s probably they – are through just yet. I absolutely believe you can look around and see the value in newspapers. But you can see the clouds, too. It’s a restrictive business model, but the ones that do it right it can grow and prosper. You can’t aspire to be a 2017 newspaper today. You need to be a 2027 or a 2037 newspaper. I’m hopeful, no, confident this newspaper has exciting ideas in the ground that will grow stems, leaves and flowers and then sustain.
As for what happens right here? I have no idea. I hope it doesn’t go away. I hope you won’t let it go away. I’m certain the folks in charge can shop around and find an excellent replacement for me. They’re offering a wonderful opportunity for someone, and I want them to hire somebody who’s going to cultivate and create here. And I want to beat that person every day of the year, too. That’s how this goes. But that also means I want to mouse over here and go, “Shoot, that’s good. Wish I thought of that.” That’s going to happen, because you and I built something special here, and someone will realize what a tremendous resource they have in their hands.
I’m excited about all of this, I’m sad about all of this, but I think we know how to end: It felt good when I let it go.