On April 1, 1998, my lifelong goal was accomplished. I was a sports writer. This was a goal of mine since I first began watching sports as a young boy. Armed with a Nintento, I would play sports games, and take notes. After the game was over, I would do a gamer write up. It was pure joy for me and tapped into an imagination that would become my life's ambition. After graduating from Southern Oregon University in the winter of 1998 with a journalism degree, I sent out my resume to various newspapers willing to take a change on a cub reporter.
It was John Pritchett, managing editor of the Daily Triplicate in Crescent City, California who called. Crescent City was about 95 miles west of where I lived at the time, a small coastal town in the upper part of the state. Not the most glamourous spot in the world. The newspaper was also pretty tiny, about 3,500 circulation, that served Del Norte County. It was a daily that ran five days a week, with a strong local pressence, but also utilized an AP wire. It was owned by the newspaper group Western Communication (Wescom) so it was a part of the Bend Bulletin family of newspapers. At 23, with a young family, even though I felt the paper was small, it would be a great way to kickoff my career as a sports writer. The job was sports editor. What that meant was, I was in charge of two sports pages, reporting on one high school, and designing, writing, copy editing and even taking a picture or two. I loved it. It was exactly what I signed up for when I entered SOU and declared myself a journalism major. To cover local high school games, but still tap into my artistic side? Wonderful. I did have to step out of my shell a bit, I am introverted and shy. But building a repoire with coaches and athletes was easy for me. The funny part of the gig was the newspaper industry as a whole had transistioned from paste up, which is exactly what it sounds like: glue and clippings, to pagination. Instead of designing pages with excato knifes and paste boards, it was done on a computer screen using QuarkXPress. Once the design was built, the pages were zipped to a camera at an offsite facility where they were turned into negatives and then flashed onto a frame and then placed on the print wheel. I was sold. It was at the Daily Triplicate that I became aware that I was a better page designer than I was a writer. Plus, with more newspapers turning to this new technique, the demand for page designers in the industry was outweighing the need for reporters. Plus, the design jobs paid more. Focusing more on my designs than my writing, I hone my skills and mastered Quark to the point I knew the shortcut keys like the back of my hand. After 19 months, I was ready to move on.
My next stop on my career path happened in November 1999, right after Thanksgiving. I accepted a position as a sports page designer in San Angelo, Texas. San Angelo is right smack dab in the middle of Friday Night Lights: high school football ruled. It had a popular of 100,000, but that was deceiving because the city is so spread out. I remember getting lost several times after I moved there because of the strange layout of the city. In the summer of 1999, I applied for several jobs across the United States. I received call backs from three papers. San Angelo, A paper in Wisconsin, and one in Palmdale, California. All three were looking for sports page designers. I received a call first from Wisconsin. I did a phoner with them and they seemed interested, but they went another direction. The Palmdale paper wanted me to make my way down there for an interview, so I declined that job. San Angelo Standard Times editors decided to fly me out there for a day and interview me. I got on the plane and flew to Dallas before flying to San Angelo. My first impression was, I thought the city was a dump. It was brown and dry and the drinking water tasted like sewer water. But I liked the look of the paper, with a circulation size of about 50,000 that spanned nearly 500 miles, they emphasized a strong design and local content. They had a strong base of reporters on their sports staff. They also had two very tight deadlines. An early edition that had to be out by 8 p.m. and a city edition that went out around midnight. And heck, it was a new adventure. I accepted the job and became the Standard Times sports sections main designer. I didn't do as much reporting and writing, but my designs were on par with how the sports editor wanted them to be. The sports editor, Rick Taylor, was a very skilled page designer. So he taught me a lot about the elements of design that was able to take me over the top. They used Quark as well, which by that time, I had completely mastered. When Rick announced he was moving to Palm Springs, California in the summer of 2000, I happened to see a job opening for a page designer at my old home town paper in Medford, Oregon. I applied and was hired after doing a phone interview. I stayed in San Angelo for the remainder of the summer and even assisted in designing the award-winning football tab. I left in August 2000. My only regret was I missed a football season in West Texas. But I am grateful for the time I was there and how much I learned.
Moving back to Medford in September 2000 and working at the paper I grew up reading fulfilled another step toward my career path. I was also starting smack dab in the middle of a very busy fall season. So, I was thrown to the wolves. The sports staff at the time had reporters I grew up reading. Collectively, they had nearly 20 years of experience each. One reporter had started the year after I was born (1975). The design of the paper though was archaic. They used Helvetica as their main headline text, yuck city, and lots of Arials for regular text. The way the sports page was packaged was because the editors didn't know how to use Quark. They had a long column on the left side of the front page called "Two Minute Warning" that had been in use for at least five years. It usually had small teasers or weird tidbits. It also took up a lot of real estate on the front. With my hiring and with the paper still transitioning from paste up to pagination, I was part of a design committee to redesign the paper. The first thing did, very happily, was kill the Two Minute Warning. I expanded packages to include info boxes, that provided quick-hit recaps, and had photos carry the front. This meant cutting the story count on the front from eight stories to five and jumping stories inside. The old schoolers didn't like it, but they appreciated their stories being packaged in a nice design. I deep-sixed the helveticas and arials and brought the fonts used by San Angelo Standard Times to the fold. The paper as a whole started to follow my lead. I also introduced a Pick-It line that had reporters and one member of the community picking high school, college and pro games each Friday. The pick-it line replaced the long-standing MT forecast that had run for years. Basically, the forecast, which was very popular, would have a reporter write up a brief on the night games and then predict an outcome. I grew up reading these and was often annoyed when I would see my school being predicted to lose by 28. The new look garnered lots of design awards at the annual Oregon Newspaper Assocation in the spring. Competing in the large newspaper division, against the likes of the Oregonian in Portland and the Register Guard in Eugene, the MT would finished in the top three every year. It was a source of strong pride for me. With a strong staff of writers, and some solid photographers, I had to up my game each year. I designed the annual Football Tabs, introduced special sections when a local team made the state championships, and was a part of the decision-making process that brought the exremely popular "Prep Focus" page into the fold. Prep Focus ran every Thursday during the school year and had quick-hit info on all local sports. I was super proud of the design and even more proud when the design was brought up at a design seminar in Eugene as being "what a prep page should look like" but one of the masters of newspaper design. For five years, the Mail Tribune sports section was an excellent product. I left in October 2005, but many elements that I introduced in 2000 are still in play today. They still run my info boxes, the Football Pick-It line and my design and input still shine in the annual football tab.
I left the profession in October 2005 and 13 years later, I think back to being in a newsroom, deadline looming and me slapping pages together and sending them downstairs to be processed. Times have changed in the industry. Strong designs are no longer in vogue like they were in the early 2000s. In fact, the MT laid off its entire copy desk about five years ago and outsourced page designs. It's not designs that sell papers, it's stories, was the rationale. Quark has given way to InDesign. Pagination and the printing process have even changed. Yes, I did fulfill a lifelong dream when I accepted the Sports Editor job in Crescent City on April 1, 1998. But like the times, I changed. But the industry still flows in my blood. I know I could still walk into any newspaper in any city in the U.S. and design a hellva awesome page.