This past August I marked 40 years in the newspaper business, including more than 31 years in Baltimore, first at The Evening Sun and, after 1993, at The Sun. This week will be my last. I am taking a buyout, extended by the newspaper at my request, and retiring.
When I started in the business in 1971, we worked on manual typewriters and carried a pocket full of change so we could call in stories from the nearest pay phone. My first daily - the New Bedford Standard-Times - was still setting advertising copy on their old hot-lead Linotype machines when I joined up. We never saw a computer there. On deadline, editors ripped stories out of my typewriter three paragraphs at a time. "Cut and paste" in those days involved 10-inch shears and a glue pot.
Today, of course, it's all about computers and smart phones and video. A couple of weeks ago I took my new iPhone and filed notes and photos from Dinosaur Park in Laurel as paleontologists dug up a 110-million-year-old fossil. I've written The Sun's online Maryland Weather Blog - the paper's first online blog - for seven years. And I'm a tweeter, too.
It's all been great fun. I have ridden in limos with Presidential candidates (okay, one - George H.W., back in New Bedford during the 1980 Massachusetts primary), met and interviewed senators and congressmen, governors and mayors, Nobel Prize winners, scientists, astronomers, astronauts and many, many ordinary people somehow caught up in the news.
I lugged my Underwood portable typewriter to Newport, R.I. to cover Klaus von Bulow's first trial for The Evening Sun. I watched and reported on at least three space shuttle launches, and the opening of three 17th-century lead coffins in St. Mary's City. And on some very sad days, I wrote the lead stories on the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore, the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents, and the closing of The Evening Sun.
Over the years I have traveled on assignment to report on the appalling health care system in the Marshall Islands, a U.S. dependancy in the Pacific; the impact of mad cow disease on ranchers and stockyard operators in Alberta, Canada; the nanotechnology revolution at labs in California, and a solar eclipse in West Texas. I went to sea to cover the Navy's salvage of the turret of the Civil War ironclad Monitor, off North Carolina, and nearly lost my lunch on assignment in an aerobatic biplane (photo, left) and a Maryland DNR seaplane on bay patrol.
I've never revealed this to the newspaper, but at one point, after I had covered the city schools for a time, I was invited by Bob Embry to apply for the top public relations job in the city school system. I got as far as an interview with then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, in his City Hall office. My ideas about providing reporters with the truth - good and (when necessary) bad - about the city schools were somewhat out of synch with the mayor's, and my candidacy went down, mercifully, in flames.
I was always proud to work for the Baltimore Sun - evening and morning. Unlike the New Bedford Standard-Times, people had heard of The Sun. From anywhere in the country, they returned my phone calls. I was proud that a newspaper our size saw the importance of maintaining bureaus in seven foreign capitals. Our smart, brave correspondants sought out unique stories, and gave us a fresh perspective on events and people, from war zones and other places where most of us would never venture. We had our own Washington bureau and a national staff that could go anywhere in the country where there were interesting and important stories to be written.
The industry has changed, and such things are more difficult, or impossible. But The Sun remains a place where smart, talented and energetic reporters, photographers and editors work every day to keep Marylanders informed, and the public officials in our democracy under scrutiny. There are still no other newsrooms in the state equipped to provide the kind of state and local coverage this one does. Most of what you read or hear or see elsewhere is derivative. Our work at The Sun is worthy of your support, both as readers and advertisers.
I am closing my career to - as we so often write about others - "spend more time with my family." My wife retired in June after 30 years teaching children in both special and elementary education in Baltimore County schools. Our own two kids grew up and went to school here; they've amazed us with their own accomplishments, and made us proud. And now our first grandchild - a boy - is due, literally, tomorrow.
The Maryland Weather blog will continue, online and in print, but with others at the helm. I plan to continue to Tweet at www.twitter.com/froylance, although I really need to get rid of that picture.
I am thankful to the old A.S. Abell Company for giving me a chance; to the eight publishers and countless sharp-eyed editors I've worked for since 1980, and to Baltimore for being such a great place to do this work.
Thanks, also, to everyone who has ever answered my calls, agreed to an interview or just read my stories or weather blog posts over the years. I hope you learned as much reading them as I did reporting and writing them. My sincere apologies to those whose names I have misspelled, or who may have wished I'd stayed in Massachusetts.
May we all enjoy better weather.
(PHOTOS: Top: A private word with Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, D-Mass., at the opening of the Kennedy Library, Boston 1979 [That's me on the right with the '70s moustache]; Middle: An aerobatic ride for an air show story, Martin Airport, about 1993 [still with the moustache]' Bottom: my work home.)