Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, during the late 1970s, I made a living of sorts writing for The Ithaca Journal, a small daily newspaper in Upstate New York. It was a Gannett-owned paper, published six days a week, in a time when newspapers were the primary source of news and information in small cities throughout the United States.
The sports editor there was a veteran of 35 years in the newspaper business named Kenny Van Sickle. He hired me the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college to work the evening sports desk and cover a high school football or basketball games on the weekend.
What he didn’t fully explain to a naïve sports fan who found writing easy was that most of those nights I’d work alone, answering phone call after phone call until 11 pm or later from high school coaches or their appointed student manager or parent “volunteer,” with information about their games. Then, the writing would start. I’d pound out as many as 25 pages of double-spaced text, all heavily formatted with special symbols to talk to the “computer typesetting machine.” before I could go home, sleep a couple of hours, then wake for class the next day.
He never tried to explain to me that I would come to know the phone number of many, many bars and other haunts where these people, even some of the students, could be found when they didn’t make the phone call I was expecting and needed to be tracked down for the information I sought.
I doubt he could have known how much I’d love the work and the writing and everything that went with it.
I’ll never know if he saw something in my writing, or in me, that I certainly hadn’t seen before, but in a matter of weeks I found myself covering college sports, traveling with teams throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, sitting beside reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Strangely, I felt at home in their presence. More important, I quickly came to know that my writing compared favorably to theirs, and that maybe I had a little talent as a writer and a journalist.
By the spring semester of my sophomore year I was also writing for the features section of the paper. In time, I was asked to write for the local “hard” news section on occasion. Naïve as I was, I was still able to grasp the rarified air I occupied: a “sports” reporter writing “real” news. Egad! In the end, good writing and solid reporting overcame the bias that sports reporters were in fact failed journalists who found a way to remain on the payroll.
I spent a little more than three years writing for the “The Journal.” Kenny and a few others helped me see my talent as a writer…to discover “the writer in me.” They helped me discover my passion for writing, and for telling stories through my writing. It’s a passion that’s stayed with me for decades, though my passion has been too rarely sated over the years.
You’ll find some of these stories I wrote for the Ithaca Journal under the Portfolio tab at the top of the page. I hope you’ll jump over and read some of the pieces I’ve included. Remember to keep your perspective in some cases…they were written in the late 70’s. I think they showcase my ability to find and tell a story as a journalist. I’m interested in your reactions. Thanks.