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Wonderful ride comes to an end

by Rusty Turner | May 18, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

In the days when typewriters ruled the newsroom, stories submitted to editors on paper ended with a simple series of characters:


It signaled to copy editors and typesetters that a story is finished and it's time to start working on the next one.

No one is sure where "--30--" originated, though it likely had something to do with early telegraph codes for "end of message." Whatever the reason, generations of reporters were taught to sign off on assignments that way.

Now, it's my turn.

I'm about to put "--30--" on my career in journalism. After 40 years in this business, I'll retire in a few days.

I've spent that time trying to tell stories our loyal readers want and need to know. I've worked to ensure those stories were accurate, honest, timely and engaging. I hope those stories have been -- as an editor of my acquaintance would demand -- clear, concise and cogent.

I like to think I've succeeded in those efforts, fully realizing that the inevitable fallibility of human kind guarantees I haven't been perfect. If you doubt that, you should take a quick stroll through my email inbox. My faults, according to some, are many and varied.

Newspaper editors and basketball referees have a lot in common. We'll never make everybody happy, and if everyone is mad at us, we must be doing something right.

(With that thought in mind, I offer my most sincere apologies to the officials and umpires who worked the games my sons played in over the years.)

For those times I wasn't perfect, I'm truly sorry. I can only say any errors in fact, judgment, presentation or omission were committed unwittingly and despite the best of intentions.

I do know this: The journalists I've had the pleasure to work with in the last four decades were dedicated to the same ideals of truth and honesty. We did great work together and I will miss the daily inspiration of their monumental efforts on behalf of our readers. I can never thank them enough for their professionalism, tenacity and friendship.

I admit to having been around long enough to have typed "--30--" to end stories filed on paper. It was mostly in college (University of Arkansas, Class of 1983) when our journalism class work was done on typewriters and graded with a red pencil.

I learned a lot in college thanks to some spectacular instructors, but my first real lesson in journalism came after I graduated, but before I got my first job. I found out early that this business requires quick thinking in pressure situations.

It was May 1983, and the ink on my diploma was barely dry. I arrived at the offices of the Northwest Arkansas Morning News in Rogers for a job interview. I'd arranged it with the editor the previous week. I was encouraged by that first conversation because he said he was looking for a reporter and he liked my work samples.

This second meeting, a formal interview, was my chance. I desperately needed a job. My wedding was less than three months away and my wife-to-be was still in college in Fayetteville. My parents' home was in Tulsa. If I couldn't find a newspaper job in Northwest Arkansas, our options weren't great.

I walked into the newspaper building (which is now a museum, so write your own joke here) and asked for the editor by name.

"I'm sorry," said the lady at the desk. "He's not with us any more."

Here's where the quick thinking came in.

"OK," I said, coolly hiding my panic, "Could I see the new editor, please?"

It worked. I got to see him. He hired me. And here I am.

By the way, my second lesson of professional journalism was that people change jobs a lot. I'd rely on both lessons throughout my career.

By the time I got started, the industry had pretty much made the switch from typewriters to word processors (I hesitate to call those things "computers"). Typesetters were no longer surly middle-aged people punching letters on giant, noisy keyboards. They were sleek, rectangular metal boxes that mysteriously organized our copy into neat columns and spit them out in long strips of heavy paper.

Page layout consisted of colleagues literally cutting and pasting the columns of type (using scissors and hot wax rather than a keyboard and a mouse) on to giant mock-ups of newspaper pages. Yet another magical process turned those pages into plates mounted on a press that transferred ink to newsprint in just the right amounts to create newspapers.

I still remember the excitement of watching my first professional byline roll off the press. We celebrated with a cheap six-pack in the parking lot. I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on that particular violation of company policy.

A lot changed for me in the intervening 40 years, and it started almost immediately. I got married that summer (we're still together; yet another mysterious, magical result). I put professional lesson No. 2 into effect and switched jobs several times. That includes spending four years in Fort Smith so that my bride could accept her first post-college job offer. Then we came back to Northwest Arkansas for a reporter job for me. In 1991 I returned to the Rogers paper as editor and, despite mergers and ownership swaps, I've been in charge of a newsroom ever since.

I take great pride in the roles I played in telling many important and historic stories. As a reporter, I covered Nolan Richardson's hiring as Razorback basketball coach; the development of the Lee Creek Dam and Reservoir in the River Valley; the UA's switch from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference; the rescue of Carnall Hall from bulldozers; and many others. As an editor I helped direct coverage of dozens more meaningful stories, including the development of Northwest Arkansas National Airport and Interstate 49; the UA's billion-dollar fundraising campaign; and visits to the region by not one, not two, but three U.S. presidents.

Those were the great days. Other days, when the news was grim, were awful. But the reporting had to be done. Perhaps the worst was a Sunday in 1996 when we had to cover two different murders involving teenagers -- in one case a young victim and in the other, a young assailant. We told all those stories, the great and the awful, as accurately as we could and as quickly as responsible journalism would allow.

All that, while changes in our industry kept coming. The layout process moved to computer screens. We shut down our photo darkrooms and invested in digital cameras. Cable news channels obliterated what we once called "the news cycle." Northwest Arkansas grew exponentially, as did market competition. Then came the Internet.

The good news for the print industry was that the Internet put us back in the breaking news game with TV and radio. The bad news, at least at the time, comprised just about every other aspect of the World Wide Web. Competition for both eyeballs and advertising eventually wrecked our industry's heretofore lucrative business model. And it seemed like every time we were "this close" to figuring out the right approach for the digital realm, technology took another huge leap forward and the scramble was on again. Professional lesson No. 1 about thinking fast on your feet came into play constantly. It still does.

We adapted, again and again. We did so by trial and error, exhaustive research and, at times, blind luck. Inky wretches suddenly had to figure out audio and video production, search engine optimization, mobile phones a thousand times more powerful than early computers and the shifting ways potential customers consumed our work.

We're still figuring it out, because the technology doesn't stop. We change along with it, from websites to hashtags to iPads. Who knows what's next? I can assure you that this column was not created using artificial intelligence. In fact, some of my email correspondents will say it was created with no intelligence whatsoever.

There has been one constant, though: Our news operation still serves you with accurate, relevant, engaging reporting that benefits our communities, holds governments and institutions accountable and gives readers insight into making their lives better. Our delivery methods and presentations may be different. Our work still has the same purpose. And, we do it, as our Statement of Core Values published every day on page 2A attests, without fear or favor.

I am filled with gratitude for the people who gave me opportunities, who supported me with their wisdom, encouragement and criticism and who toiled with me to commit great journalism. I'm indebted to our hard-working colleagues in other departments of our company, whose efforts supported the work of our newsroom -- in good times and bad. I'm especially thankful for those loyal customers who invested their hard-earned money with us so that we could tell their stories. I feel blessed to have worked for this media company, one that values journalism. Too many of our peers in the industry have tried to cut their way to success through the newsroom, with disastrous results.

I've had a front-row seat to Northwest Arkansas' transformation from isolated cluster of small towns to a burgeoning metropolis of commerce and culture. And I got to tell people all about it as it happened. What a great job.

All that's left for me is to affix to this column that mark I mentioned earlier. It signals the end of one story, but the beginning of another.

For me, it will be a story of new adventures with my wife, children and grandchildren; of spending time with my parents, who need a little more attention these days, but whose support for me never wavered; of transitioning from newsroom executive to loyal (and occasionally grumpy) subscriber.

For this organization, it will be a story of new leadership, more change and, most certainly, continued great journalism. I urge you, dear readers, to continue to support it with your subscriptions and attention.

I know the team I leave behind. I am confident their new story will be one filled with success. I wish the same for your stories, as well, my friends.

With all my heart, thank you for a wonderful ride.


Rusty Turner of Rogers is the editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (for a few more days). His email is [email protected].

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