This is my final official column for the Tallahassee Democrat Network and USA Today Florida.
Just over 10 years after retiring from journalism, I am finally really Retiring and ending this bi-weekly column, the late editor Bob Gabordi asked me to continue writing after he stopped covering the Florida Capitol.
Looking back over 57 years, it’s been a great career. Journalism certainly beats work. I’ve seen a lot of change in the business, mostly the slow and steady erosion of print media, but I’ve been lucky.
Maybe I should have been apprehensive with my first job. The old Miami News, an afternoon paper that closed in 1988, offered me an entry-level job in 1966. Literally the next day, the News announced a “mechanical merger” with the Miami Herald and my work – as well as those of many long-time people. -serving staff members- went away overnight.
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I got a similar gig at the Herald and soon after was hired by United Press International. The Global Newswire was unimpressed with my obvious potential, but hired me because I had served a snag in the Marine Corps and was exempt from conscription – a big deal in 1966. Moreover, the boss believed that women journalists get married, pregnant and quit too soon, while men are tied closer to their jobs when they settle down.
Hey, probably not legal, but I’m lucky.
Anyway, UPI offered me $102.50 a week to drop out of Miami-Dade Jr. College and go to Columbia, SC. On the way to the airport on January 27, 1967, I went to the UPI office in Miami to thank the guy who had hired me, but the place was in chaos.
Three astronauts had just died in the Apollo launch pad fire at Kennedy Space Center. I stepped in to help with the phones, thinking, “Wow, wire service work is going to be exciting.”
The following Monday, I was in Colombia, typing farm market prices into a ticker – soybeans, chickens, tobacco, peaches – and thinking, “Wow, wire service work is going to be boring.”
I was right both times.
For the next 18 years, I worked for UPI in Raleigh, North Carolina, Birmingham, Alabama, Miami, Tallahassee and Atlanta. I’ve covered great national stories, elections, hurricanes and court cases. I met a lot of really smart and good people – mostly fellow journalists – and I got lucky again.
UPI sent me to Tallahassee in 1969 and five years later asked me to work in Atlanta because the governor there, if you can believe it, was planning to run for president. Not wanting to waste one of their Washington experts on a guy with no luck, UPI had me follow Jimmy Carter across the country for several months in 1976. He ended up going to Washington and I went back to Atlanta , where again I got lucky.
I met a Democrat from downtown Atlanta who was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1980. Long story short, we just visited our six grandchildren in Seattle.
I had kinda bounced between the capitals of Georgia and Florida for campaign trails and legislative sessions during the 10 years I lived in Atlanta, so when a place opened in Tallahassee in 1984, Cindy and I moved here. The following year, UPI began laying off people and closing offices (did I mention the decline of the print media?) but I understood the Democrat (did I mention getting lucky?)
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As I’ve come to expect over the past few years, I finally got caught up in the wave of downsizing recently announced by the Gannett newspapers. I have nothing to complain about, because I don’t need the income and there’s no point in getting upset about the decline of print media. It would be like getting mad at gravity – there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
I’m more worried about my friends in the newsroom – bright, hard-working young people who, despite what you may have heard, aren’t making up “fake news” and certainly aren’t “the enemy of the people.” At 79, I can watch state government and confine my rambling head-turning to Facebook.
Editor William Hatfield said I could keep my newsroom passkey and login so I could contribute an occasional column when something irritated me enough, but no more bi-weekly ruminations on the state of our state. I will miss even the stupidest reader comments.
When Hatfield suggested this swansong chronicle, I hesitated. Journalists should stay out of our stories and I have always avoided using the first person singular in columns. I used to argue with my late friend Gerald Ensley, who felt that personal references made columns more conversational.
OK, I decided to write about me this time. But don’t expect it every 57.
Bill Cotterell is a retired capital reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat who until now wrote a column twice a week. You can still reach him, for a while, email@example.com.
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