Do you have a pen?
The question always embarrasses me. A good newspaper publisher should always have a pen. I never do. I used to. Alas, my dear wife, who washes all my clothes, has thrown away no fewer than 10 pairs of slacks over the 20 years we’ve been married because they came out of the wash with large blots of blue and black ink on them. It’s not exactly the fashion look I’m seeking. But it is customary. Back when every newspaper had its own press, newspapermen were called “ink stained” wretches for the mess the presses made. I guess I was trying to continue the tradition with pens. But after ruining so many clothes by leaving pens in them, I finally quit carrying them.
But a good newspaperman should always be ready to take notes and get the story. My favorite and best college professor at the University of Georgia, the late, great Conrad Fink, used to tell his aspiring journalists to be preparing at all times to write a fast-breaking story.
“You’re walking down the street, Davis,” Fink would stammer, glaring underneath the largest eyebrows in North America. “A 747 begins plummeting toward a building near you. People are screaming. It crashes into the building. You get on a pay phone to dictate your story to your newspaper. What do you say?”
And that was before 9-11.
If your answer wasn’t satisfactory to Fink, who covered Vietnam for the Associated Press, he would try again.
“You’re at the annual chamber banquet and you hear gunfire and suddenly the mayor is dead on the floor,” demanded Fink. “What’s your lead.”
Fink always preached be ready to do your job. News rarely announces itself before it happens.
Alas, Fink would’ve been disappointed in me on Friday. I was riding my bike around Jekyll Island when I noticed a traffic jam on North Beachview Drive. There aren’t many traffic jams on Jekyll Island. Three cars were stopped in the middle of the road for some reason. Then I saw it. About a dozen deer, mamas and babies, were walking single file across a cross walk heading to the beach. Oh my gosh! I fumbled around to get my iPhone out of my bathing suit to snap what was sure to be an award-winning photograph. Alas, I was too late.
“Davis, I’m not sure you’re cut out for journalism,” Fink told me one time. “Why don’t you go into politics?”
He had a point.
But it wasn’t all bike rides and golf outings at the Georgia Press Association’s annual convention last week. We did work some, and the gathered journalists got to hear from Gov. Brian Kemp.
Afterwards, I shook Kemp’s hand. He’s always been friendly despite our ribbing him about his refusal to settle the county line dispute. So I gave him a word of encouragement.
“You’re a much better governor than secretary of state,” I laughed.
He grimaced, turned his head away and retorted: “That’s just because I didn’t do what you wanted me to!”
Mark Smith Jr. of the Eatonton Messenger was ready for the moment, and captured it well in the photo above. He must’ve listened to Professor Fink better than I did.