I have written three newspaper farewell columns. All the best are doing it these days.
This newspaper, and many others, all sorts of journals, anything with ink, can’t get through a week without a goodbye. Most byes are not good. They are sad and full of regret.
Compare Neil Armstrong taking one small step and Eugene Cernan leaving the last boot print.
So, let’s try a hello. Hellos are more fun, fresh and hopeful. Well, hello there. Here I am again, doing what I can, doing what I do in a weird new world.
Let me illustrate. A friend of mine was to meet me later. At a Final Four, I think it was, for some wings and a drink, at one of those places named after, uh, owls.
I was late. When I got there he was gone. Why?
“I could just see a picture of me alone at a Hooters showing up on YouTube,” he said. “That’s all I need.”
Whoa. This is a newspaper guy. But he also did TV, one of those cable shows where they yell at each other, and he made more money at it. Newspaper guys never worried about image, many not about hygiene. More and more newspaper guys have no newspapers.
At the Masters press building, the new one, not the old Quonset hut from the Palmer-Nicklaus days, the one large enough for the legions that came for Tiger Woods, a sports writer I had known for years was at the men’s room sink, applying pancake make up.
“You missed a spot,” I said, rubbing my finger under my left eye to show him where. I was joking.
“Thanks,” he said, dabbing another glob of blush and bronzer where there was already too much. Ready to podcast.
Moments are milestones. I had played poker with this dude when neither of us could see the spots on the cards. I had seen him eat crab dip with his fingers.
The Democratic convention that sent Barack Obama to his first term was held in the town where I then worked. As a novelty this sports writer was added to the coverage of the thing.
Here’s what I remember most vividly. Newspapers, not just the locals but the national ones as well, the “old media,” were set up in a tent outside the arena, with dim lighting and two layers of security to pass through to get inside the main building.
Bloggers, hash-taggers, e-mailers and podcasters, the “social media,” were inside the building with air conditioning and a free buffet. I stopped in for a carrot stick. Security looked at my credential. “Newspapers outside,” he said. I dropped the half-eaten carrot back into the dish.
The first time I was asked to blog was at the Athens Olympics. I had no idea what a blog was.
“You just write some observations about things,” my sports editor told me.
“Oh, you mean, like I’ve been doing for the last 30 years?”
Those of us who have been at it a while have always preferred being “the press.” I suppose somewhere we think of those days with the press card in a fedora, whereas now we wear our identities like cops or soldiers, on chains around our necks.
We collect stories from a computer screen, without being in the same room as our subject.
I think of it as constipation information, no improvement over a wet and pink Don Zimmer charging me naked from the shower because I dared write he should not be the Cubs next manager.
It is possible to write this column just using my thumb, and I thought about doing it that way. I thought about using just a single finger, too, but, then, Miss Prescott went to a lot of trouble to teach me to type with both hands and both thumbs, so as long as I can, that is how I’ll do it.
A friend of mine, the great Jerome Holtzman, wrote a book on the generation of sports writers that preceded his — from John R. Tunis to Red Smith — called “No Cheering in the Press Box.”
I wonder if the generation after mine will need a book called “No Blogging in the Press Box.” Not a chance. Blogging and the selfie-stick are not only here to stay, they are tools with no book of instructions.
This now may be the last generation of sports writers, the last generation of newspapers, and it is deeply depressing to think of what can be lost. Literacy, reflection, perspective, accuracy, deliberation, originality, conviction, trust, responsibility — not to go all viral or anything.
As I said, moments are milestones. Truths revealed. Lies exposed. Wisdom gained.
When. Where. Why. Who. How. The old holy fist of journalism. Check. Double check.
I will do what I can.