I called my good friend Les Walters recently. He’s the associate publisher of the Journal Record newspaper in Hamilton, the small town where I grew up.
We always share family updates.
And, of course, we always talk newspapers.
“How’s the newspaper going?” I asked.
“OK,” he replied.
Then he stunned me a bit.
“I’m going part-time on Nov. 1,” Les said.
It’s a first step toward retirement, I guess, for my good friend, who is a few years older than myself. His wife recently retired from her long-time job.
Les helped raise me in the newspaper business.
When I was a senior in high school, he moved to Hamilton to take a leadership role (at a young age) in a new newspaper, The Hamilton Progress.
Knowing by then that journalism was my career choice, I quickly got to know Les. He didn’t have to, but he took me under his wing, so to speak.
I started helping with some high school football coverage and doing a few other things. Often I would just hang out around the newspaper office or close to Les on the sideline.
Upon graduation from Hamilton High in 1979, one year of junior college at Northwest State Junior College and three years at the University of North Alabama in Florence, I kept helping at The Hamilton Progress.
Then when I graduated, Les gave me my first full-time newspaper job at my hometown newspaper.
I think I had the title of sports editor but I was doing everything--feature stories, covering breaking news, taking photos, carrying out the trash, running a newspaper delivery route, designing pages and so on.
And the hours were far beyond 40. On Tuesdays, going into Wednesdays, it was pretty much all night. But I didn’t complain. It was great.
Les was a good boss--tough but lots of fun. We had many, many good times.
He also encouraged me to get involved in the community, at a young age, and I did.
I was a part of a wonderful Hamilton Progress team for two years before I made the move to Mississippi, going to work for The Itawamba County Times in Fulton, Miss.
After leaving my hometown in 1986, Les and I have stayed in touch. He’s a great friend, so much so that he was the best man in my wedding back in 1989.
It’s hard to imagine Les getting old enough to go part-time and then possibly retire from the newspaper business. But at the same time, he deserves it.
As he and I were talking last Friday, we discussed the things we would both miss (if and when we leave the business) and the things we will not miss.
Work after 5 p.m. is common. Work on weekends is common. Deadlines are a way of life. And there’s no way to please everyone when publishing a newspaper.
It’s a job you can’t escape. It’s with you when you’re dining at the local restaurant, attending your child’s ball game or going to church.
But at the same time, we chose it, and we love it. It’s like ink is in our blood.
This is my 35th year of working full-time in the newspaper business. Les is ahead of me. We talked about getting together soon for lunch or dinner. When we do, there will be more reminiscing. Plus, there will be some looking to the future, too.
(Barry Burleson is the editor and publisher of The South Reporter in Holly Springs, Miss.)