I was a kid when I started my first real newspaper job. I had lucked out on my timing. The newspaper industry was in a slump. I had done my best to beef up my practical experience by working one summer at a radio station in Holdenville and working the fall of 1989 at the Edmond Evening Sun.
I had also taken a shot at New York journalism, had a gig lined up there for the summer of 1989, but found out I had to be a lot more ruthless, a lot more cut throat to make it in that town. I had been cursed with a good ethics teacher, a good set of role models who had made such a different path a no-go for me.
So as 1990 began, my job prospects were murky. The Enid News & Eagle had one part time position open and another about to open; the editor there responded to my job inquiry that he might be able to hire me part time and eventually make me full time. The pay was going to be less than $200 a week.
In December of 1989 I got my foot in the door at The Oklahoman by getting a job working a few hours a week answering phones on high school game nights and gathering scores. I learned about the internship program, and seeing as there were no job openings, I disregarded the rules about graduating seniors and set up an interview.
As luck would have it, Ben Fenwick quit his job as cop reporter that week (years later he would gain some fame writing a story in Playboy relating to the trial of Timothy McVeigh). My editor was Gene Triplett. He was almost a cliche of the gruff editor types you’d see portrayed in movies. Once, while covering a gang funeral, a young gunman with bad aim started firing at the crowd – and some shots grazed by me as I was talking to an officer. I jumped in the company car, got on the two way, and told Triplett we were under fire.
“Then get out of there Lackmeyer,” Triplett replied. “What are you trying to do – making up for not having your own Vietnam experience?” Another time I arrived too early at a shooting at the Armory at NE 23 and Broadway, beating the cops. In my defense, I was being forced in and out of the police reporter’s car so often by arriving officers that it was easy to get a bit flustered. Anyway, long story short, the keys got locked in the car. And this was at a time when the newsroom had moved to the new tower at Britton and Broadway, but the spare keys were at the old building downtown. Triplett was weary eyed going through two pages of agate type listing contributors to the David Walters campaign. He was none too thrilled to hear I needed someone to come by that night and go through the trouble of getting access to those extra keys.
Working downtown that first year or two was a great experience.
Those were the days when you worked around living legends – people like Kevin Laval, who kicked everyone’s butt when it came to covering and investigating the crash of Oklahoma’s energy and banking industries. Mary Jo Nelson, who knew everything about the city, downtown and City Hall, was like a god to me. It took me years to have an in-depth discussion with her – I was that intimidated. Editors like Wayne Singleterry made sure you got every fact correct – down to a suspect’s shoe size. Mr. Gaylord drove himself to and from work, loved burgers at Johnnies, and when you listened to him, only then did you realize what a killer dry wit he had.
I walked to and from the courthouse everyday, carrying an ancient Toshiba laptop to type in public records when I had to cover the obit shift (yep, I had to pay my dues). I knew nobody downtown, though I did know more than some about its history. I knew nothing about the people at the “cop shop” or fire department. When I’d ask questions about how to make contacts, how to find the good stories, I was simply told “be a reporter.”
So that’s what I did. I made it a point to always be working one way or another, to get to really know people, to go beyond interviews, to find out the background stories. I was inquisitive. I chased after some bad story leads. I chased after some good story leads. I sought to end my stint as a cop reporter after covering the worst crime in this city’s history – April 19, 1995 – and seeing far too much blood, sorrow and violence for any sane person to witness without emotional scarring. I asked the tough questions as I covered the early days of MAPS, and shared in the excitement in seeing the projects come to fruition. I bit my tongue knowing about Devon tower a year before I could pop the story (you’ve got to nail down sources and do a lot of footwork on the big stories). I couldn’t envision what a completed Bricktown Canal would look like. I can’t envision what a completed Project 180 will look like. I shared lunches with some of you at Allen’s Cafe and stared at the weird art work on the walls, and I enjoyed hearing the latest gossip from Hal Priddy at Taylor’s Newsstand. We shared in the disappointment when both landmarks closed.
I learned from those I worked with. I was stunned when Laval died way too soon. I mourned when Wayne died at his desk. I respectfully honored Mary Jo when she passed away. I’ve tried to take the punches, as others have, as the industry went from change to crazy change. We’ve seen some changes pay off while others haven’t. We’ve cried as we’ve seen friends lose their jobs, victims of an economy that remains brutal to many.
Maybe I’m rambling. I certainly wasn’t allowed to do that 10 years ago. But that’s the beauty of blogging. It’s all part of that crazy change I mentioned – breaking down that wall that once separated a newspaper’s writers from the readers. I guess what I’m saying is today wasn’t one of my favorite days. But careers are filled with good days and bad days. I’m still committed to doing my best to keep you informed on all that’s going on downtown and beyond. And I hope you’ll stick with me as I continue to write and tell stories I hope you’ll find interesting and worth your time (which will include a story in tomorrow’s paper about the response to the proposed hotels in Bricktown, with more coverage to follow!)