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Does the bell toll for daily journalism?

by Ogi Overman

I’d been looking forward to spending a rather leisurely three hours or so with my pal and fellow ink-stained wretch Bill Hass at the Grasshoppers game last Friday. In a peculiar reversal of time differentiation, however, our three hours turned into a mere one hour and 49 minutes.

Not complaining, though. Thank you, Graham Taylor.

Be advised here and now, keep your eye on this young leftie. Yeah, I’ve missed a few over the years – Kiki Hernandez was can’t miss, Mariano Rivera was no chance – but I’ve been right more often than not. And if ever I’ve seen a sure-fire major league prospect, Taylor is it. Aside from the fact that he’s the fastest worker I’ve ever seen – this was his second straight 1:49 game – he throws first pitches for strikes, knows how to mix in the deuce and change, and doesn’t lose composure with men on base. Catch him while you can, because the Marlins may move him up after the All-Star break.

In my 17 years as the Hornets/Bats/Grasshoppers primary or backup official scorer (the first 10 as the primary), the quickest game I’d ever worked before Friday was 1:52. The details of the games fade with time, but the handful of contests under two hours seem to stand out. But other than the pleasure of scoring a gem, it’s still a bit special to reminisce with Bill about the good old/bad old days in War Memorial. He was the third of the three News & Record beat writers I had the honor of sitting beside in that dilapidated old press box, and I wouldn’t trade the memories of those interminable summers, each of which by August I swore was the last, for all the Falstaff in Dizzy Dean’s cooler.

My rookie year was Tom Northington’s last with the daily gazette and, truth be known, I was a bit awestruck in his presence. Then came Charlie Atkinson, still one of my best pals on earth and one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever known. For five or six years we evaluated talent on the field and in the stands, before the powers that be at the paper moved him to the desk. Then came Bill, another sportswriter whom I’d admired from afar, and an instant bond was formed around baseball that spilled over into real life. Bill took an early retirement package from the paper before last season but still writes game recaps and features for the Grasshoppers’ website.

Now that I only work a few games a year it’s always a treat to while away a few hours in the sparkling new First Horizon press box. And since the News & Record doesn’t staff all the home games anymore, Bill and I were able to sit side by side like old times.

Naturally I was curious about last week’s purge of 41 employees by the parent company, Landmark Communications, and when the subject was broached it was obvious that he was still overwrought. Many of those who lost their jobs, after all, are his friends, and the cold-bloodedness of it all still hits home. I, too, am saddened by it, on several levels. The News & Record was never the enemy, even when my paycheck was being signed by Randall Terry, owner of the High Point Enterprise. As Charlie once observed, “We’re just two writers doing the same job for different companies,” and the comradeship cuts across masthead barriers.

It was not that long ago when the Enterprise “downsized” 27 employees and it fell to me to drop the hammer on one of my very best people at ESP magazine. So I understand what they’re going through, from both an employee and a management perspective.

But aside from the very real human heartache of losing a job you’ve dedicated your body and soul to, I honestly worry that the paper I’ve been reading daily for 50 years is in the early stages of a death spiral. The publisher can claim that there will be no loss of coverage, but I know better, and so do most other savvy readers. He is whistling through the graveyard as he watches page counts drop, ad revenues fall off, circulation tumble and morale hit rock bottom. The newsroom and sports department have been savaged and there’s no way to disguise the fact. As evidence, before this year the paper had never not staffed a home minor league baseball game, but there simply aren’t enough bodies to go around anymore.

Then I wonder what those who’ve gone before would think of the sorry state of daily journalism today. The flood of legendary figures such as Moses Crutchfield, Smith Barrier, Bill Snyder, Slick Shephard and my old friend Conrad “Buck” Paysour must surely be commiserating over a water cooler in that Great Newsroom in the Sky.

It’s sad times for a once-proud paper.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48.

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