Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2013, 6:10 am
After 1,415 columns, 'And another thing ...' turns 28
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By Don Wooten
January of 1986 was an unsettling time for me. Several friends commented on my subdued and abstracted behavior. I'm sure a least a part of it had to do with a radical change in my method of addressing the world. I started writing this newspaper column.
Last Sunday ended 27 years of weekly essays for the Rock Island Argus and 17 for the Dispatch. Today, I embark on year 28, with column number 1,415 (Argus) and 888 (Dispatch). My later entry into the latter paper was a testament to its more exacting standards.
Two years ago, I wrote along these same lines, looking back over a quarter century in the media, primarily the electronic kind, along with excursions into politics and education. To quote from that previous column: reaching such markers in time prompts me to reflect on the experiences which have brought me to this day. At my age, I find there is a lot more in memory than in future prospects. Looking ahead only brings the exit sign into sharper focus.
Riffling through the past this time, I have have been reflecting on my long, if largely peripheral, involvement with the press. I started early, around the first grade, reading two daily Memphis newspapers, the morning Commercial Appeal and the afternoon Press-Scimitar. I confess that I initially focused on Alley Oop, Pete the Tramp, and the Katzenjammer Kids.
But World War II brought me to the front page. Because of that interest, I was tasked to cut out stories about the war, post them on the classroom bulletin board, and summarize them for my classmates. I well remember some of those accounts -- especially front-line reports by Ernie Pyle -- and can still work up indignation at the way Gen. Draza Michalovich and his Yugoslav Chetniks were betrayed by the British during that war.
Long before advancing to this exalted status in the editorial page, I spent a season as music critic for The Dispatch after writing for two other newspapers, along with a monthly jazz column for Commonweal magazine. I also did part-time work for the weekly Davenport Catholic Messenger, back in the days when it was edited by Donald McDonald and counted as a major player in the Catholic Press. with subscribers in every state in the union.
I continued to help out when Mac went on to greater things and Bud Johnson took over the operation. During one terrifying, two-week period, when Johnson was on vacation, I was tasked with getting the newspaper out on my own. I moved from compiling the Ordo and editing the rural page to handling it all: local news stories, national and regional items, headlines, page makeup, and proofreading. It gave me a deep appreciation for the hard work involved in print journalism and a deeper conviction that I was better suited for radio and television.
When I returned at last to print journalism, I wasn't sure why. I was invited to contribute a Sunday column, but to no particular purpose. Every time I asked what topics I should address, the subject was changed to word count and deadlines. Which is why I lurch about each week from the personal to the public. This lack of focus was expressed in the beginning by a "kicker" above the headline which proclaimed "And Another Thing . . ."
And so it has been: one thing after another, in no particular order of significance or interest.
But as I continue to take up valuable editorial space, It weighs on my conscience when I dawdle over personal concerns and private interests. Especially now, when we are entering what I consider a troubling, even dangerous period in our democracy.
Issues before us are profound and we begin to doubt the utility of the political assumptions we trust to resolve them: rational, democratic discourse; common purpose; strong social bonds.
I recall what happened to the Weimar Republic; the Roman republic; Athenian democracy; when stubborn, fractious citizenry gave way -- willingly, I remind you -- to the rule of one man, propelled by a self-serving elite. We have nearly despaired of democracy before (at the formation of the nation; during the Great Depression) and struggled through. Will we do it again?
We have known about our problems for a long time, but have let them fester beyond the point of simple remedies: global warming; gun control; paying for shared services through taxation; inequality in many forms, from financial to social; corrupt electoral practices; declines in quality of education and medical care: the list is long, familiar, and monotonous.
I read and think about these things through the week and follow the news closely in its various modes of transmission. But what pops into my mind late on a Wednesday night is what shows up on Sunday morning. And it's likely. not to be a illuminating critique of latest developments, but yet "Another Thing ..."
Ah well, as I have remarked in the past, it is probably unfair that I have been given this space and you have not. But life is not fair. I have had more than my share of opportunities and have been in the public eye (like a cinder, some would say) for a long time. How much longer, I cannot guess. But the exit sign is there and it gets brighter every year.
I really ought to get to work.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster; firstname.lastname@example.org.