I can't recall very well a time when I wasn't working in the media business. I think it was during high school, probably 1973-74, and I was busing tables at Cole's Town and Country Restaurant in Albion, Mich., just off Interstate 94. The owner, Vern Cole, had a banter with the patrons that consisted mostly of "hi there how are you come on in bye now." He was not humorless, but he had standards, and it was good honest work, as they say. I was on my feet during an eight-hour shift after school. Vacuumed the dining room after closing. Cleaned the restrooms. Went home smelling like fried food.
The only other non-media job I think I ever had was at the Left Bank restaurant in Walla Walla, Wash., possibly in the summer of 1977. My friend from Whitman College, Reed Price, who went into the news business himself and now works at MSN, was cooking lunch there and got me hired as a combination host-busser-cashier. It was a disaster. I think I was fired. But by that point, at age 20, I had a daily newspaper job under my belt and also that summer was working three or four weekend shifts as a disc jockey at KUJ-AM, "Southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon's official hit music and contest station." Several other commercial radio jobs ensued during college years, and I returned to the newspaper business a month after graduation. I've been a journalist ever since.
And even before I was old enough to work, media were on my mind — a lot. My mom, Jean Taylor, taught me at a very early age about things like commercials, reruns, ratings, and networks. Two television events stand out for me from my earliest years, these in Columbus, Ohio. The first was watching the Today show broadcast live from the world's fair in Seattle in 1962. The other was the advent of Telstar, the first communications satellite, which was used to relay live TV images over long distances starting in 1963.
As a kid, I had three toy printing presses (separate gifts from relatives who seemed to know where I was heading), walkie-talkies (which we used not so much for mobile communications as to broadcast radio shows from our house with a big rubber band holding the mic key open), and a Heathkit shortwave radio I put together. My first actual media job, which paid for the Heathkit, was with Gannett — delivering the nearby Battle Creek Enquirer and News in Albion.
I was a critical TV watcher and radio listener (Larry Lujack, anyone?) and read newspapers and magazines voraciously, even as a youngster. (Books, well, not so voraciously.) My senior year in high school, I worked every morning before classes at the daily Albion Evening Recorder as the sports editor. The jobs at Cole's and the Left Bank were momentary digressions.
Some people are born to do certain things, and I consider myself an example. I've never really wanted to do anything else. (Except maybe fly. I did that, eventually, too.) I grew up watching Walter Cronkite and later interviewed him. I've been a very lucky Chuckie.
As some of you know, I've been laid off since November. It has been at once a nice break and a scary time, given the demise of the mainstream news business. The good news today is that I soon will start a new job. The bad news is it's not in the news business. I'm trying to not see that as some sort of irreversible life change. There was a time when you couldn't cross back into journalism once you moved to the "dark side" of rhetorical communication. Today, people don't seem to care as long as you are transparent about it. So perhaps I will return.
In a few weeks I will become a contract worker for Boeing, a company I once covered as a reporter for The Seattle Times. I will help the company's Integrated Defense Systems division launch a new public Web site. It's not a permanent gig. But at least I know that up front.
(Hmmm. I started this blog writing about trains. Now I'll be writing about planes.)
As for this blog and commentary about journalism, I think I'm outta gas. I do not expect to be posting here much in the near future. The Seattle Post-Times has served its purpose. I need to concentrate on other things.
For those of you who have been reading these past eight months, thanks for your support and comments. If you're just joining me, hi there how are you come on in bye now.