Time traveling back to 1991

by Todd Brooks

It occurred to me not too long ago that this year marks this the 30th anniversary of my first newspaper job.

It was August 1991 when I finished up my college degree and I already had a job waiting on me when I graduated. The Valley Times-News was a small daily newspaper in Lanett, Ala., a city right on the Alabama-Georgia border where I-85 crosses from one state into the other.

I basically knew nothing about the newspaper business and as the sports editor, I was a one-man sports department. My experience in college was writing sports my senior year for the college newspaper. My degree is in political science, but I enjoyed sportswriting so much that one year, I was hoping it would be enough to land me a newspaper job, which, fortunately, it did.

I look back at what a fun learning experience that was. I also remember many of my boneheaded mistakes and poor decisions I made as well. It’s not like I don’t make them now, but experience over the years has allowed me to at least cut down on them.

I had season press box passes to Auburn football games, which was 30 minutes down the road from me. I would occasionally go to Alabama games, too, but they were on the other side of the state. It was a great life for a 20-something bachelor. Friends from college who were making much more money than I was in their career choices (I started out at $6 an hour), were jealous of me because I got prime seats at college and professional sporting events for free.
The technology has changed drastically. Back then, I typed on a big, bulky computer with a monochrome green screen and that’s all it did was type and store things. Now, I can produce everything on my desktop computer from concept, to writing, to photo editing, to design. Once the newspaper is completed, I send electronic PDFs to the printer for them to print it. That would have been nothing but a fantasy in 1991.

One of the things that I remember most was getting to read the comics before most other people did. The comic strip distributors would mail the comic strips to the newspaper weeks in advance, so I would get a sneak preview if I wanted.

I’m sure many readers will remember the comic strip, “For Better or For Worse,” which seemed to be at the height of its popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It was a comic strip with continuing story lines about a family called the Pattersons, but it was unique in that the people aged. Kids grew up, adults got wrinkles and so on. Everything happened in real time.

While aging characters was a cool thing to see, it also meant death could be an issue. And it was in 1995, when Farley, the family dog, would have been 14 years old. Writer Lynn Johnstone knew that the popular character would have to go.

She was determined, however, to have Farley go out a hero. When the youngest child, April, not much more than a toddler, falls into a swollen river, Farley jumps in holds her head above water until help arrives.

The stress is too much on the old dog and he dies of a heart attack.

I remember when the batch of comics came into the office I sat down and read the whole storyline of Farley’s death not wanting to have to wait day after day to read it in the newspaper.

I don’t know why that particular memory sticks out so vividly when I got to do so many other things during my time there. We were an hour from Atlanta and I got to go to Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves games. I got to sit ringside at an Evander Holyfield heavyweight title fight. These were seats I could never afford on my salary, but I had a press pass and saw it for free.

A few times over the years since I got that first newspaper job, I have delved in other careers, but I always came back to the newspaper business. But, even if I wasn’t working as a newspaper employee full-time, I would help out newspapers wherever I was as a part-time sportswriter.

Yes, it has been quite a ride since I first walked into my first newsroom to work for a living. It’s been a mix of mostly good days with some hard ones, but it has never been boring.

It’s long and odd hours and sometimes you can go weeks without a day off. It’s not a job for the fainthearted or the thin-skinned. It’s not a job to get rich. It can be a thankless but rewarding job.

What it has allowed me to do is meet some great people that I might not have ever met otherwise. Thanks for the opportunity to get to know you.

Comanche Times
United for Oklahoma - June