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Old hands and new


The Observer has, as of this week, been at this job for 15 years, long enough that if we'd been born in August 2002 instead of starting on this long journey, we'd have peach fuzz on our chin, a spray of acne and questionable taste in both fashion and music. What a long, strange trip it's been so far, Dear Reader, the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the cans to cain'ts, reporting in everything from big cities to little hamlets so far back in the sticks that they have to get sunlight delivered parcel post. It's been a life. The members of our newspaper family — as much the family of Yours Truly as those who we are connected to by marriage or blood — held a little shindig up here for The Observer on Monday, complete with a nice spread of wraps and dips and sandwiches somebody had been kind enough to cut the crust off of, all arranged out in the lobby on a table with a deep cooler of beer nearby. They didn't make The Observer, notoriously gun-shy about public speaking, give a speech, and neither did El Hefe mount his soapbox to sing our praises, for which we were glad on both counts. It is, however, good to be noticed after a decade and a half. We hope you got some enjoyment or education out of our labors, Dear Reader. Lord knows we have. Until year 20: Onward and upward!


And then, the struggles of the novice Observer.

They come in flashes; shameful memories that make you want to crawl into a ball. Once, this Observer called the wrong source and conducted a whole interview before realizing it was actually the other person at that agency. Another time, it was going to the incorrect building and almost missing a public meeting. Then there are the consistently bad sentences fixed by a good editor. (That might be one.)

These examples are all when the novice Observer even figures out enough to go do something. Starting is hard enough. Especially with all that everyone else has already done.

When the novice Observer discusses a topic for a new story — one that seems so perfect, finally a great story! — with the Veteran Observer (15 years of experiencing dripping from his pen) there is usually a little silence. "Oh, yeah," the Veteran Observer says, "I wrote about that a few years ago." Schools? Cops? Health care? Weirdos? Heroes? Well, the Veteran Observer has seen it all, and, damn him to Abaddon, has written the thing down better than would've been done by yours truly. (Just compare the floundering prose of these observations to his usual analysis and it'll become clear.)

After being thwarted, this neophyte pushes out into the world to look for something that has not caught a seemingly all-seeing eye. A tough task, as the Veteran Observer pumps out evermore stories while this beginner tries to learn the tricks. But, there is something to being new, too. There is something about having hopes, watching most of them be crushed by experience, but ... a few survive. They wiggle out into passions and become important leads, scoops, and new ideas.

Luckily for this Observer, those hopes can be surrounded by experience. Trials by fire have burned away any pretension — people will tell you your idea is dumb. But, also, yelling around the office about an article, people will also pull facts ab aeterno about Arkansas and the lives of those with power that make your article.

Had enough of the self-congratulations? The Observer has, too. Hopefully we won't say a thing about this again until year 20 and the work will speak for itself. Until then, to mimic the Veteran: Onward and upward!

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