The Athletic has started a new series titled “My first job” in which sports journalists write about their first jobs in the business. I can’t think of anything less interesting, so I’ll write about mine. (You have to subscribe to the Athletic to see its series; mine is free!)
My first job was at the Monroe Enquirer-Journal. I wrote about how I got there earlier. I was one of four news reporters. We also had two sports writers, one features reporter/editor, and one society columnist. It was a Monday-Friday afternoon paper with a 10 a.m. print deadline for that day’s paper.
I was 22, got paid $100 a week and was happy to have it. I covered the county commissioners, Indian Trail, Stallings and politics as my core beat, but with a small news staff, I covered cops and courts with routine.
I loved it. The expectation was that we’d have a story in the paper every day, and it wasn’t hard to do because I was young, worked long hours, and stories were all over the place.
I was there when Jesse Helms, Skipper Bowles and Henry Hall Wilson were in their powerful prime. They were classmates, growing up in Monroe. Helms was in D.C., of course, serving as a U.S. senator. Bowles had just been defeated by Jim Holshouser in the governor’s race, but he was still influential across the state. Wilson served as a senior advisor to President Kennedy and President Johnson, and later became president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Board of Trade.
A town of 10,000 produced three politicians only two years apart in age and they all had national reputations
Because I was with their hometown paper — and they often returned home to visit family — my phone calls always went through. Because they were Southern gentlemen, they asked about my parents and my rearing, and they mentioned it each time we spoke.
Because they were politicians, our interviews didn’t light any dark spaces that I recall. Because I wet behind the ears, I didn’t know any better. But I always got a story.
I once told Helms that my Republican parents lived in Raleigh, which was his home when he wasn’t in Washington.
“Oh,” he said, “what’s their phone number? I’ll call them next time I’m home.”
I told him, and added: “They aren’t fans of yours, senator.”
I told him about that my mother used to watch Helms do editorials on WRAL, which he did every weeknight on the 6 o’clock news. We had just moved to Raleigh from Oklahoma in 1968. “Oh my god, he’s so awful,” my mother said night early on. “What kind of place did we move to?”
He laughed at that story and said, “Yes, some people had that reaction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
After we hung up and I wrote my story, I called mom and told her when he said. She said: “I hope he does call. I have a few things to tell him.”
He didn’t call.