There’s something about obituary writing that is undeniably enjoyable. Learning about a life, digging through the archives to figure out what they’d done — piecing together a thoughtful summary of a character. It’s stressful, at times, but the payoff is worth it.
“It’s kind of my job to wake up the city. They can’t do it as well without me as they can with me.” —Robert Michael Kennedy, The Roanoke Times.
How could I bypass the opportunity to invoke Snow White, Spider-Man and Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” in a story about buzzards?
Really, though. On a recent morning I was browsing through some government documents when I fell upon mention of a neighborhood vulture problem. My interest snagged, I trekked out into the community looking for people with an opinion about the issue. One of the birds soared above me during an interview. I did some research.
The end result was a short, fun little piece on the scavengers, and one small town’s effort to run them off.
*Photo Credit: Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon
Lunch served with the side-scent of newspaper ink is oddly enjoyable. It happened recently at The Roanoke Times, where employees from the across the building converged upon our press room to sit and eat a holiday luncheon beneath the Times' monolith Heidelberg Mainstream 80.
To get there, you pass through what I personally consider to be one of the building’s foremost features, a skyway bridge that crosses directly over Second Street. At the right time of day, the sunlight pours through the windows with a warmth made for snapping cheap mobile phone photos of unwitting subjects.
Every once in awhile, chance delivers a subject as fascinating as Paul Holt, one of the people I interviewed for a recent piece on the shifting world of bounty hunting in Southwest Virginia. I drove across the region for parts of this story, but also took a simple elevator ride to the second floor of the newspaper building, where the morgue is housed.
Everyone has a past, but it just happened that Holt’s had been well-preserved in our vast archival trove. It was there where I found stacks of yellowed clippings, each one bearing details and scenes of the man’s life. Sitting at a table in that library, it struck me that playing witness to a person’s history through the lens of newspaper accounts is a humbling experience, one that demands a certain reverence.
Holt offered a glimpse into a world I never knew — and how many people have the privilege of this kind of learning experience on a regular basis? Just one reason why I’m skeptical of reports proclaiming “reporter (newspaper)” as the one of the “worst jobs of 2013.”