Arkansas Times Senior Editor Max Brantley, who hired The Observer as a pup a few eons back, recently took to the Arkansas Blog to mark his two score and five years so far in the newspaper business. It tickled many of our own heartstrings about Little Rock, this profession, and what it all means in 2018 A.D. A slightly abbreviated version appears below. Enjoy:
I dropped out of Stanford grad school in the fall of 1972. When I dropped by to say goodbye to my adviser, Bill Rivers, I related that I’d already been turned down for a job at the Arkansas Gazette. Managing Editor Bob Douglas had told me, with good reason given my limited experience as sports editor of a small-town Virginia weekly during college days, that I needed some farm-team work first. He suggested Pine Bluff.
Rivers told me he’d write a letter to Gazette City Editor Bill Shelton, whom he’d met researching a journalism project with Ben Bagdikian. (Yes, the reporter who landed the Pentagon Papers in “The Post.”) By the time I’d wound home by car to Louisiana after a few stops in Texas, a copy of Rivers’ kind letter to Shelton was waiting for me. The next day, early in the new year, I woke with a hangover and figured it was time to wobble down to the Lake Charles American Press and apply for a job. I’d never considered anything but working on a newspaper. Before I could leave the house, the phone rang. It was Bill Shelton, offering me a job. A few days later I was in Little Rock, sharing a desk with a raffish police reporter in the old Gazette newsroom. I stubbed cigarettes out on the parquet floor like everyone else.
The next 45 years passed quickly (though not the first six weeks of my quitting cigarettes in 1977). I met Ellen, we sent two kids into the world and, after almost 19 years, witnessed the end of the Arkansas Gazette. I moved to the Arkansas Times on the invitation of publisher Alan Leveritt, whom I’d met when he was a relief obit writer at the Gazette in 1973. And here I am 26 years later.
The world of newspapering is in disarray thanks to the internet and what it wrought — Craigslist, Amazon, Facebook, Google and all the rest. But I’m also grateful for the internet. It gave me an entry almost 14 years ago, as a weekly newspaper editor, back into daily (minute-by-minute even) news. The Arkansas Blog continues to offer reporting, opinion and aggregation.
I remember the newspaper of 1973 fondly: a switchboard operator, a morgue full of clip files, a photo darkroom, Underwood upright typewriters, Linotypes, copy boys, clattering wire service machines, the spike that Shelton slammed copy on after editing, the “rim” where copy editors worked, mining the Criss-Cross, City Directory and Facts on File for information, telephone books, the worn marble stairs in the Gazette building, the hailstorm sound of typewriters banged at deadline by Ernest Dumas, Doug Smith, George Bentley, John Woodruff, Bill Lewis, Jim Bailey, Orville Henry, Charles Albright, Richard Allin, Bob Lancaster, Mike Trimble and other legendary figures. Women were outnumbered but they were there when I arrived — such as Matilda Tuohey, Ginger Shiras, Brenda Scisson, Tish Talbot, Martha Douglas, Betty Fulkerson, Harriet Aldridge, Pat Trimble Patterson, Diane Woodruff, Julie Baldridge, historian Margaret Ross.
General assignment and cop reporters worked into the night, but cheap pleasures were many. Some of them: The Shack, the Brunswick, Peck’s, the Ship Ahoy, the Pitcher, Arkansas Fats, Old Hickory, the Press Club, Fisher’s BBQ, Cuz Fisher’s, Town Hall, Ballard BBQ, Island X, Bottom of the Rock, Lin’s, the Band Box, Thalheimer’s Smoke Shop and, for really special nights out, steaks and soda bread at the Leather Bottle, where Bob Hayes played guitar and sang in the lounge. Hayes entertained at the Ballard-catered barbecue dinner the night before my 1976 wedding, a gig I won with a $90 bid at the Tabriz hot dog night auction. Bob’s gone now but my marriage endures. OK. Enough about my change in latitude in 1973. Thanks for checking in. And keep the tips and jokes coming. As the song says, if we couldn’t laugh we’d all go insane.