Stan Voit: Half-century in newspapering a memorable time

Aug. 17, 2013 @ 10:13 PM

It was 50 years ago. Summer. I was 13 and through with baseball but was offered the chance to work at the ballpark as a scorekeeper, making $1.50 a game. Three games a night.

Mid-season I was approached by the league The Tuscaloosa News needed somebody to do write-ups on the games in both parks. And so it began. A simple request became a career that spanned most of the past 50 years.

This has been my space every Sunday since April 2005 when I began as editor of The Mountain Press. Before I got here I had worked at newspapers in eight cities, all in the South. Now I end my time at The Press.

Why? Several reasons, but it all comes down to one: It was time. I’m 63. When I started we used linotype machines to set type. Then came offset printing, then computer generated copy, then computer generated pages. I made each transition.

At every stop the newspaper was the community bulletin board. It’s what people called when they were having trouble with the bureaucracy or had a tip about a scandal. It’s where they turned to announce a wedding or a funeral, to report a child making the honor roll becoming engaged.

This is the kind of journalism I have practiced. Except for a two-year connection to the newspaper in Montgomery, Ala., my whole career has been at what we call community papers, smaller ones in markets where there were few places to go for news. That’s what I liked. Big fish in little pond, not big fish in big pond.

This is not your father’s newspaper. Things have changed. There are so many ways to get news, to see things as they happen instead of when the paper comes out to tell you. Many ways, but not many with credibility. I accept change, even while fearing it and what it has done to the industry I love.

This much I know: A community need a strong, viable and engaged newspaper. Sevier County sure does. Attend a council meeting or county meeting or trial, and you’ll likely see a presence by The Mountain Press and no other media. Knoxville reporters come over usually when we have an outbreak of news, not for refrigerator journalism — the kind you clip out put on the door of the fridge. Newspapers matter.

I am departing on my terms. I leave behind colleagues I cherish, journalists I have known and worked with over six decades — many of whom have gone on — and a lot of people in every town from Tuscaloosa to Selma to Tuskegee to Auburn who I got to know, reported on and liked. Along the way we sometimes caught the bad guy and uncovered scandal, ignominy and shame. But mostly we did good stories, positive stories. I like those.

Jason Davis is the new editor after six years as sports editor. I recommend him to you. He is young enough to be my son, but a dedicated committed journalist, family man and Sevier County resident. He’ll make the changes that need to be made and hang on to the things he likes and our readers cherish.

I walk away knowing that, like the blues man William Bell sang, “You don’t miss the water ’til the well runs dry.” I am disappointed it couldn’t last longer, but convinced the time was right.

Deadlines, angry callers, mistakes beyond our control, bad judgments — all part of it. Each day was an adventure with surprise endings.

Do me this favor: Support this paper. News coverage in Sevier County cannot be left to an occasional Knoxville visit or a nut job with a computer, website and agenda. This paper is the firewall, and it must be strong and read.

Bonnie and I will remain here, and I’ll find something to do. I gotta work. It is part of me. And I will not stop writing. Writers never do. You may even see my name in this fine product from time to time. The cord does not cut easily.

Thanks for the well-wishes the past few days. Thanks to the great people in this newsroom and newsrooms past. Thanks to a terrific publisher, Jana Thomasson, who respects news and editors in ways I could only have wished for in earlier jobs.

And thanks to you just for being readers. That is not as dumb as it sounds.

That’s about it. See ya around.

— Stan Voit is the now former editor of The Mountain Press. Email to voitscribe@bellsouth.net or Twitter @stanvoit.