Columns

Column: 30 years later, it’s still a labor of love

And there it is, 30 years in the books (or perhaps I should say in the papers).

Thirty years is a long time, and yet it flew by in a flash. Thursday, May 19, will mark my 30th anniversary as a Times Review Media Group employee. I have been in the newspaper business for (gulp) nearly 38 years. Even as I type these words, it’s hard to believe all that time has passed. It has been an interesting journey and, in some ways, an unlikely one.

My entire professional career has been spent in newspapers, starting out at Soccer Week, a publication that has since folded. It was while at Soccer Week that I hooked on as a part-time sports reporter at Newsday, and later New York Newsday.

Memories of those days came flooding back to me recently when I saw Facebook posts by Peter Tamburello and John Valenti with a fuzzy photo of the Newsday part-time sports crew around Christmastime in what had to be 1985, ’86 or ’87. Sitting right behind Tamburello, who is lying across a desk in a red holiday-themed sweater, was me in a white shirt, next to Gregg Sarra. Gosh, was that really me? Was that any of us? We were so young.

Photos are frozen history. In that photo we are all young forever.

I was only 21 years old when I was hired by Newsday. A baby. But I learned so much, mostly from just listening and observing.

In the fall of 1984, I had been at the paper for only a couple of months and was thrilled at the idea of my name appearing in a tagline (a sort of byline that appears at the end of a story) under a short college men’s soccer roundup. I was so eager to see my first signed piece of Newsday work that I arose at an ungodly early hour and went to a convenience store to pick up the paper. I tore through the pages to find the short item I wrote and there it was — without my tagline.

Ugh!

An editor sent me an apologetic note. It was an oversight. But there were plenty of stories and bylines to come.

After six years at Newsday, I left to become a soccer columnist for The National Sports Daily, which was really a great paper, but didn’t last long, apparently because of distribution issues. My run there was short, and from there I moved to Cooperstown, N.Y., to become managing editor of the Freeman’s Journal. My apartment was on the same street as the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

But my stay there was short, too. I had started there in August when the weather was beautiful. Then winter arrived. It was maybe the third straight day of blizzard conditions when I asked a colleague what was going on. She looked at me, amused by my Long Island naivete, and told me the weather was going to be like that until March.

That was all I needed to hear. Back to Long Island I went.

Thumbing through a New York Press Association program, I came across an ad for The Suffolk Times. It looked like a good paper and they were looking for a news reporter. I mailed in my résumé and writing samples and heard back from Troy Gustavson. He was the co-publisher, along with his wife, Joan.

Troy gave me a test assignment: a 500-word story about a Grumman jet that had performed admirably during the Gulf War. The story was seamless and read well, Troy said, before giving me another test assignment and then another after that. The tryout continued. He asked me to work in the office for a week, which I did. I was then offered and accepted the job.

It turned out later that I didn’t think I would be on the job for more than a few weeks. I sensed that the editors weren’t happy with my work. So, one day I buzzed Troy, asking if he had time to talk. As I climbed up the steps to his second-floor office, I was prepared to resign. No hard feelings. It wasn’t meant to be, apparently.

When I opened with the words, “I don’t think things are working out,” I could see Troy’s eyes open wide in surprise. He assured me that wasn’t the case at all. They were happy with my work. All was good.

And so I have remained. After a couple of years, Michael Gasparino left the company, opening up the position of sports editor, which I happily took on.

So much has changed in 30 years. When I first joined the company, we printed out copy, waxed the back of the pages and then pasted them to flats. For years now, everything has been digitized. No need for cutting and pasting.

I’ve been positively influenced by people like Valenti, who is now a Newsday news reporter; Bob Herzog, the former Newsday Sunday sports editor who hired me way back when; Charles Clark, the late, legendary Newsday high school sports editor; our executive editor, Steve Wick; and so many others. I am grateful to the Gustavsons and our current publisher, Andrew Olsen, for letting me practice a profession I love without interference.

Now, 30 years later, writing remains my joy, my passion. I love it more than ever. That’s what I find most amazing.

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