The wild ride of news gathering

(The Register-Pajaronian building is shown at 1000 Main St. in 2003, shortly before the newspaper moved to its current home on 100 Westridge Drive. File photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

When I was hired at the Register-Pajaronian in 1997 I had no idea what a roller coaster ride I was in for. Coming on board in an industry that was going through a major upheaval as far as how the internet would impact publication, news gathering, photography — even typing out our stories — called for a heck of a lot of patience.

I still recall photographer Sam Vestal wandering in to the newsroom now and again to see how the R-P was doing. I had no idea what a legend that man was and what a vast departure the digital age in photography was about to take, compared to the darkroom world Vestal was familiar with. I became friends with R-P photographers Chip Scheuer, Mike McCollum and Kurt Ellison. Those were the days when copy editor Bob Smith was a major figure at the paper with his unending source of knowledge regarding the news field and who’s who in every direction. I still recall our sports man, Dave Burge and sports writer, the late Bob Putney.

Doug Leifheit was our publisher and Bob Stiegel was the managing news editor.

One of the things that amazed me the most about working at the R-P was the vast tonnage of news and information that came through the newsroom doors and phone lines each day.

We were a six-day-a-week paper then and it came out in the afternoon. When the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks occurred on the East Coast we had the ghastly attacks on our front page just hours after it happened.

I’ve watched so many people come and go now, with the passing of time, like historian Betty Lewis, a major figure around the newsroom. Cooking columnist Jean Fortenbery, now gone, was also a lively character at the R-P with her regular columns. My wife Sarah has since filled her place with her Mixing Bowl food column.

I watched a bunch of news editors come and go as well as a horde of reporters like Kathryn Gillick, Dave Brooks, Katie Morris, Mike Seville, Roger Sideman and Bek Phillips. One of my favorite news editors was Jon Chown. He’s still around town, too. I saw him at the Crab Feed Saturday night.

One thing that largely impresses me about working for a newspaper like the R-P, despite all the changes we’ve been through, is the giant list of people we get to meet — from firefighters, to boxers, cooks, welders, artists, teachers, nurses and doctors, pilots, police, students, butchers and plumbers. The list goes on.

With this line of work you also come face-to-face with tragedy, something that took some getting used to. I’ve seen men cut down by trains and all kinds of gunshot and stabbing victims, and unbelievable vehicle wrecks — all part of your city paper. Fortunately, we get to balance this out with visits to organic farms or kids making colorful masks for a school project.

One of the most exciting things we cover is the Ivy League Tour for students with their eyes set on upper echelon schools. Some of these high school students have simply stunned me with their brilliance, articulation and vision.

We’re sure appreciative of the folks that still take our paper, or drop a few coins in at the news box to find out the latest around town. You are why we come in each day and fill our pages with the words and photos we see best fit for print.


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