Oh yeah, you probably don’t remember the point that I was trying to make when I last wrote for The Commercial Dispatch.
That’s understandable. It was 30 years ago, after all.
This week I am returning to The Dispatch where I will cover the city of Starkville and its neighboring communities.
My association with The Dispatch began in 1980 where I spent the falls covering high school football while studying (I am using the broadest possible term here) at Mississippi State.
I left MSU a semester into my junior year at State (January of 1982) to work full-time at The Dispatch. Allegra Brigham was the managing editor. Dan Davis was news editor. Kyle Steward was city editor. David Putnam was sports editor. Winston Thompson was a photographer and tennis partner.
That stay at The Dispatch was brief – I left in August of 1982 for job at the Biloxi Sun Herald, where I stayed 14 years, becoming sports editor in 1990. In 1996, I left Mississippi for northern California for jobs in Santa Rosa and soon thereafter, the San Francisco Examiner.
I left San Francisco in 1998 to become sports editor at the East Valley Tribune in suburban Phoenix, where I stayed until 2007, the last two years as the paper’s Metro Columnist, an abrupt change of direction after spending 25 years of watching people kick, catch, hit, throw, drop and bounce various sorts of objects, mostly balls of various sorts.
I knew it was time to get out of sports journalism when I began to find the people in the stands infinitely more interesting than the people on the field. Plus, I wouldn’t have to interview naked people anymore. My goal is to never have to interview a naked person again. So if you drop by looking for news coverage, please, put some clothes on first.
In January of 2011, I returned to Starkville and MSU to finish that degree I didn’t think I needed 30 years ago. I graduate in a few days, which means it took me 35 years to get a B.A. I do not intend to get a Masters or PhD, pretty much on the theory that I am not likely to live that long, given my, ahem, “deliberate” approach to academics.
My return to The Dispatch reminds me of something British newspaper essayist G.K. Chesterton wrote more than 100 years ago. There are two ways to get home, Chesterton mused. One way is to leave home and travel all the way around the world until you arrive back to where you began. The other way is to never leave home to start with.
My journey has been more of the former than the latter, obviously, and while it wasn’t the most practical method of reaching “home,” I feel as though I am better for the journey.
None of the folks I worked with in my first stint at The Dispatch are still at the paper, which is a disappointment to me. I had really hoped there would be at least one person who, upon my return, would be in a position to say, “See? We knew you’d come crawling back here someday…”
On the bright side, at least a couple of my former colleagues are still in the general neighborhood. Allegra recently fulfilled her duties as interim president at MUW. Kyle is now the right-hand man for MSU president Mark Keenum.
The last I heard of Dan, he was at the Clarion-Ledger. I know David left Columbus for the Clarion-Ledger, too, but I do not believe he has been there for quite some time now.
I don’t know what happened to Winston. At some point, I think he was working for a bank in Columbus, but I don’t know if that’s still the case. If he’s still around, maybe we can play some tennis. I’ll have to dig through my stuff to see if I still have a racket (unlikely).
Obviously, much has changed since my first stint at the Dispatch. For example, my nom de plume, Slim, has long since ceased to be descriptive. The city of Starkville and the MSU campus have changed, too. Fortunately, there are enough remaining landmarks to permit me to find my bearings.
Happily, some things haven’t changed. The Dispatch is still in the loving care of the Imes family and, given my travels, I’ve come to believe the industry would be much better off had newspapers remained family enterprises. Unlike the large, publicly-traded newspaper chains that dominate the industry today, a family-owned newspaper is something far more than ink on a balance sheet. That’s better for everyone, especially the community it serves.
And there is another thing that hasn’t changed. Thirty years ago, I could scarcely contain my enthusiasm for being a “newspaper guy.” All these years later, I still find it fulfilling, exciting and thoroughly entertaining.
As I re-acquaint myself with “home,” I hope some of you folks who have stuck around will enlighten me, especially if you know what’s up in Starkville these days. Just drop me a line or give me a call.
Like I was saying, it’s good to be here.
Slim Smith covers Starkville for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org