Ten years? Really?
Nobody has an idea that lasts 10 years, do they?
When PressBox publisher Stan Charles said he wanted to talk to me about something a decade ago, the only surprise was that the message came via a phone call. We'd traded enough barbs, some thoughts and a few ideas through the years to fill a three-ring notebook, or maybe host a three-ring circus. But those conversations had almost always been face-to-face, often sounding more like a debate than an intelligent exchange between two professional but occasionally confrontational adults.
It's just the way things were going all the way back to the infancy of talk-show radio, when Charles was front and center as Stan "The Fan" and newspapers, where I was trying to establish a career, were still the primary source of information. But people change with the times, and so do occupations -- sometimes, sadly, on all accounts. Suddenly, you couldn't push three buttons without a radio talk show popping up, and covering baseball, not the game, had lost some of its attraction.
Stan got away from the local air waves and took his act to North Carolina for a while, but it was only a matter of time before the "Land of Pleasant Living" would lure him back home.
Meanwhile, the newspaper business began to change dramatically, and I was an admittedly reluctant participant. The Internet was in its infancy, and to be honest, I'm not sure Stan or I knew it had been born. That's either an example of how fast the world of communication changed, or how slow we responded -- or hopefully, a combination of the two.
Whatever the reason, Stan and I were in the same boat, fish out of water, when he made that phone call way back in the flip-phone era (I vividly remember making a pact that I would never own a beeper, pager, car phone or, heaven forbid, a cellphone -- how did that work out?).
Stan was looking to get back into the local communication field, and I was looking for a way to resume writing. After a possible minor league front office position didn't work out, my duties as an official scorer for MLB had kept my baseball connections alive, but other than an occasional freelance piece, writing had unfortunately been relegated to the rearview mirror.
While I don't remember much about the call -- except that it was a bit vague and a different way for us to communicate -- I do remember meeting with Stan at Greg's Bagels, one of my favorite stops in Belvedere Square and one of the most diverse and unique places in Baltimore. That's where Stan laid out his grand plan of a weekly sports newspaper that would cover Baltimore like the morning dew on a fall morning (my expression, not his).
You have no idea what the word newspaper means to someone who has been a confirmed junkie for as long as I've been able to read (at a ridiculously early age I might add). Even in its infancy, the idea of a startup paper was exciting. There were still a lot of hurdles to clear and hoops to jump through, but they were for Stan and his backers/partners to deal with -- my juices were flowing just thinking about writing on a regular basis. He had me from the word "newspaper."
Then came the tough part -- coming up with a name for the column. I mean, it was easy for the founder/editor -- he's always been Stan "The Fan." I couldn't be "Hen the Pen," and I didn't have a catchy nickname -- the closest I'd ever come was "Henny Penny" as a kid, and that for sure wasn't going to work. Believe me, I used up every available minute before coming up with "Upon Further Review," and given we were going to be a weekly, I found more than a touch of irony in the fact that a term used for the NFL's replay system seemed to fit perfectly for a column that would feature a heavy dose of baseball.
But we weren't very far along in the process when one thing I had concerns about, the cost of newsprint, which has driven the cost of newspapers through the roof, threatened the existence of PressBox before it had a chance to get established. I think that's about the time I started to realize the impact of the Internet -- which, in my mind, had been little more than a novel adult pacifier until then. Little did I even realize that the kids were already light years ahead of their parents on this one.
I was dubious at first, but eventually, Stan and PressBox managing partner John Coulson convinced me that the Internet was the wave of the future -- and suddenly a light bulb went off in my still developing mind. Back in the early 1970s, Neal Eskridge, a very bright writer I worked with on
The Baltimore News-American, made a statement that got my attention.
"Someday," Eskridge said to me, "newspapers will be delivered to our television sets." Wow … think about it -- that was 40 years ago. I'm not sure I believed it at the time -- but I never forgot those words. And as I stare at the computer while writing this piece, I marvel at Neal's foresight.
So here we are, and though I remain partial to our monthly print edition because old habits are hard to break, especially if you don't have the desire,
PressBoxOnline.com is where it's happening -- every day. And guess what? A writer's delight -- on the Internet, there's no reason to trim copy. The sky, literally, is the limit.
And here I am, with more space than I could ever fill, but still realizing that no matter the time frame, writers always have one major obstacle to overcome -- deadlines. They were tough on a daily basis, are just as difficult on a weekly, even monthly basis -- because one thing you learn in this business is that leads don't come in a flash, not just the good ones, but even the ones that don't cut it. Whether it be an hour, a day, a week or even a month -- good leads are hard to come by and generally take up every allotted second.
For myself personally, there has only been one exception to this unwritten, but excruciatingly true rule. It was for a story written for PressBox, and it will forever be my favorite lead -- and story.
It was a little more than five years ago when my four brothers, Chuck, Bob, Bill and John, and I decided we needed to do something we'd never done -- take a road trip together. It was the fall of 2010, and since the oldest brother got to make the call, we went to one of my favorite places -- Cooperstown, N.Y., home of baseball's Hall of Fame.
Before the car was packed, before the awesome behind-the-scenes visit to the Hall of Fame, before the hilarious camaraderie as the five of us bonded like never before, even before the plans were finalized, I already had the lead in my mind -- and not one word ever changed.
It went like this: "After what often seemed like a lifetime of road trips, the most recent one proved to be the ultimate road trip of a lifetime." Short, simple, to the point -- my best lead ever. The rest of the story didn't flow as easily, and it took even longer than some others, but for many reasons, it remains the most meaningful I've ever written.
We lost Chuck seven months later -- but the road trips continue in his honor to this day. To have been able to document that first one was so special. It is the highlight of a career now in its fourth quarter, so obviously it ranks as the best work I've done in this PressBox.
Now, about the last 10 years … Stan, are you really sure?
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.