December marked my 15th anniversary at the Arkansas Times. Many high school students today weren’t born when I came here after the demise of the Arkansas Gazette.
The perspective is useful. People, events and places that once seemed of all-consuming importance have become history’s footnotes, if not utterly forgotten.
I like this about newspapers. You push as hard as you can to report as much as you can as accurately as you can against fixed deadlines. Failure is soon fish wrap and a new set of blank pages offers an opportunity to do better.
Tools have changed in 15 years. When I came to work here, there was no e-mail. I now get 800 to 1,000 pieces a day. There was no Internet. I spend hours on the web daily. The pages posted on the web live forever and can be summoned in a split second. They don’t crumble and yellow in dusty archives. And who’d ever heard of a blog in 1991? Or a digital camera? Or podcasts?
I joined the Times when it was still a monthly magazine, though we became a weekly a few months later. I enjoyed that brief taste of magazine journalism. I profiled an El Dorado oilman, Chesley Pruet, a genial wildcatter who dug deep to support Republican presidential candidates. He’s dead now, but his vast fortune continues to support good deeds in Arkansas. I wrote about a psychiatric hospital administrator who killed his wife to cash in on an insurance policy to pay off credit card debts. He spends his days today in the care of the Arkansas Correction Department. I wrote about puffy school cafeteria rolls and I still treasure the recipe I got to duplicate them at home. I wrote about a governor’s wife who was going through a fashion makeover to prepare for presidential campaign rounds with her husband.
And then the fun began. Bill Clinton was the cover boy of our first weekly edition in May 1992. John Brummett had followed him to New York to cover Clinton’s breakout in the Democratic primary. He would go on to Washington in January 1993 for the inauguration. And that was just the beginning of the fun and controversy. The Times is an alternative newspaper. But in Arkansas, we were mainstream when it came to Bill Clinton. The statewide daily was the minority’s voice.
I’ve had much more to write about than Bill Clinton, of course. As several have observed, if Mike Huckabee hadn’t come along as governor, I would have had to invent him.
I will miss Mike Huckabee, whose last day as governor comes before our next regular issue appears Jan. 11. Smooth talkers with a flair for hyperbole are rich material, particularly if you add a dose of populism, thin skin, a love of material things and even some good ideas now and then. Mike Beebe seems unlikely to be so entertaining.
But there’s consolation. Might Mike Huckabee be taking off on a generation of national newsmaking as Bill Clinton was in December 1991? Will I be here 15 years from now to look back? I’m sure that the governor, if he’s as generous of spirit as his new book suggests, will be pulling for me to stay the course with him. It is probably safe to predict, though, that the rest of the story doesn’t include a presidential candidacy by his wife.