Living Columns & Blogs

Journalism is about more than a love of words. It’s a relationship with readers.

On a brisk, windy day in March some 68 years ago, the late Stuart Sechrist, my UNC journalism professor, called me aside after class and said, “Snow, meet me here tomorrow at 10 a.m. We’re going to look for a job for you.”

“You’ll know when we get there,” he said the next morning as we drove westward and I kept inquiring about our destination.

In an hour or so, we arrived at the Burlington Times-News where my obliging professor introduced me to editor Howard White.

“Here he is, just as I promised,” he said. “He’s ugly as sin but he’s a pretty good writer.”

Turning to me, he said, “Now you do a good job,” shook my hand and stalked out.

When I was a little boy, I never thought of being a journalist. I dreamed of owning my own grocery store so that I could eat all the candy I wanted at one time.

Upon graduation from high school and serving overseas in the Air Force during World War II, I headed off to college thinking I wanted to become a lawyer.

My mother became very alarmed.

“Honey,” she said, “don’t you know what the Bible says about lawyers? The Bible says that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a lawyer to enter heaven!”

My mother apparently had misquoted Matthew 19:24 where Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

So why have I spent more than six decades making my living by putting words together on a typewriter or computer screen and loving every day of doing that?

For one thing, I never felt that I could do anything else. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a love affair with words and their wondrous power when strung together, verbally or in print.

As an inept public speaker, I found my voice in writing, recording the on-going dramas, large and small, being played out on the stage of life around me.

I’ve long admired the definition of my craft provided by one of my heroes, the late Jonathan Daniels, long time editor of The News & Observer:

“Basically, ours is the skill of the public scold, the peeping Tom, the night watchman and the keepers of the Doomsday Book,“ he wrote.

“It helps to be able to take candy from a baby and in dealing with preachers, pundits, the advance men of circuses, social climbers, stuffed shirts and the populace at large in the hunger for publicity, which pervades the American scene.”

As for me, one of the primary joys of my long journalism career has been my relationships with our readers. Their responses via letters , emails or in person have stimulated my thinking, contributed to my education, stirred my emotions, widened my horizons and, not least, provided fodder for comment.

Their feedback has run the gamut of emotions: approval, disapproval, grief, consolation and humor, all the feelings that members of a large family might experience.

For example, when the newspaper changed the column logo with a new photo of me, one reader wrote: “I used to come downtown 40 years ago and see you drinking coffee at the Professional Pharmacy. You were ugly as hell then and you’re ugly as hell now.”

An Oregon lumberjack, whose mother had sent him a copy of one of my column collections, wrote on a postcard, “I love reading them pieces you wrote in your book. I read one every morning when I’m sitting in the bathroom.”

Shakespeare wrote in his play, “As You Like It,” that life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”

That may be true of life, but for the time being, not true of this column. I will still be coming your way twice a month. So hang in, folks.

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