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Ruminations

Forty years ago last week, a college graduate looking for work climbed a staircase to a small, second-floor office sitting over a Mexican restaurant on the east side of Providence.

Inside, a newspaper editor named Marty Kohn decided to give that person a chance and assigned him to write a freelance article for the weekly paper he edited. One article led to another and then another and then another. The following April, the publisher of that newspaper offered the person a full-time job at another newspaper he owned. And so began a career.

And now, for 40 years, I've been a journalist on either a full-time or part-time basis. (Where the heck did those decades go?) Even for the 25 years I worked for marketing agencies and corporations, I kept on writing freelance articles for publications.

In 2007, Al and Marilyn Holman – owners of this newspaper – asked me to join them and help staff the then-new Milford Town Crier. I haven't regretted a moment since then, because I believe in strong community-based journalism.

Now in my early 60s, I admit I'm somewhat of an anachronism: I may write on a computer, but I still take my notes longhand on paper. I still express a great deal of skepticism for anything anyone in government tells me – believing somewhere deep down that there must be a hidden agenda. Most times there is not, but I sure know how to find it when it's there.

Along my 40 years doing this job, I've acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of how local governments work – or don't – in cities and towns in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I'm not ashamed to admit that I "blew" a story involving financials early in my career, which instilled in me a practice to drill down into municipal finances. I even took a graduate-level course in financial journalism taught by a Wall Street Journal reporter. The calculator short-cut he taught me on how to measure financial changes is etched into my brain.

Other things I learned along the way include an editor once telling me, "You can't stand over your readers' shoulders and tell them what you mean." In other words, write so that they understand a complex subject in simple terms. And so, I still write about government stories the old-fashioned way. I don't write "cutesy" verbiage designed to attract someone's attention as they surf the World Wide Web. I do the old "who, what, when, where, why and how" in the "inverted pyramid" (important things first, background later) style that every journalist used when everyone used to read the local paper on a regular basis.

I still "think" in black and white when I take a picture. It may now run in color, but my mind has to imagine it as if it's running in black and white. Of course, I'm no longer developing film in a darkroom, just moving pixels from one memory card to another.

And, while I don't like to write about myself, some milestones are important to remember. I hope to keep my fingers dancing across the keyboard for another 10 or 20 years, doing something I love to do.




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