INKSPOTS

An old newspaperman who won't fade away

RICK NORTON
Posted 3/24/19

“Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism.”— Richard KlugerAmerican author,Pulitzer Prize recipient(b. 1934)———Anyone who can …

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INKSPOTS

An old newspaperman who won't fade away

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Anyone who can remain in the same profession for 60 years deserves the respect of everyone who understands the meaning of perseverance.

And anybody who can do it under the spotlight of a stressful newsroom — whether as a reporter, photographer, copyeditor, page designer or editor — should be seen as a walking miracle.

Our community newspaper, the Cleveland Daily Banner — or simply The Banner, as most know us — has one such worker. He is Larry C. Bowers, a longtime print journalist who turned the tide on conventional news 10 days ago. Instead of reporting the story, the self-declared old codger became the story.

Readers of our newspaper found him on front page and above the fold, in a prime spot reserved for prime events. In the Thursday edition dated March 14, and under a bold blue headline, we featured Larry as being the 2019 recipient of the John Seigenthaler “Making Kids Count” Media Award.

For those not familiar with Seigenthaler — a longtime newspaperman and former publisher of The Tennessean — and for those who had not heard of the “Making Kids Count” campaign, it’s a big deal.

Here’s an example: Last year’s recipient was country-music legend and humanitarian Dolly Parton whose work with the Imagination Library, her popular Christmas TV special and her outreach to high school students in Sevier County earned the prestigious recognition from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

Again this year, as part of its Children’s Advocacy Days observance in Nashville that featured national, state and grassroots perspectives on child and family-focused issues, TCCY leaders took a moment to recognize journalists who share their passion for kids and for the parents who brought them into this world.

Our own Larry Bowers was one of the honorees.

Larry has spent much of his time over six decades writing stories, columns and editorials about the challenges kids face in a time when it’s more convenient for adults to demand, “… What’s wrong with young people today?” instead of reaching out with a steadying hand and assuring, “… We’ll get through this together.”

When you do something good over and over, and when you dedicate your best efforts without expectation, people notice. Such is the case with Larry. That’s why he returned home to Cleveland with a treasured recognition from a state organization that understands the value in saying “thank you.”

Heaven knows, Larry earned the award, and it was years in the making.

Here’s a sobering perspective: When Larry accepted his first newspaper job as a freelance artist, I was a barefoot, 3-year-old toddler wearing food-stained, hand-me-down T-shirts from my brother and first cousins in Falkner, Miss.

While Larry was designing artwork for ads, and developing film and burning plates in a Maryville darkroom, Mom was wiping my nose and … well, other ends too.

At 78, Larry is as much a newspaper icon as you’re going to find in today’s world of print journalism. Truth is, not too many newsrooms can boast of having someone from his generation. 

The guy has worked for about 20 newspapers in five states. In recent years, he has retired three times from the Banner, having first arrived in 1997. But, like a rubber ball, he keeps bouncing back.

You’ve got to admire the guy’s resolve. Veteran newspapermen often talk about getting ink in your blood. Well, it happens. And when you love what you’re doing, it makes saying goodbye to the newsroom that much harder.

In a long, long career, Larry has done what I couldn’t. After 12 years of newsroom chaos in the late 1970s and ‘80s, I bailed. And I stayed gone for the next 21, wrapped up in a world of corporate communications for three companies. It was still print journalism, but not in a newsroom.

Likely, there is something to that ink-in-the-blood adage. Although I returned to newspaper work nine years ago, there are nights while driving back home after another monster day when I ask myself, “What was I thinking?”

I never have a good answer. But that’s just me.

Larry never left the field. He still lives by the click of a keyboard, beams at the thrill of a byline and clings to a personal devotion to the printed word. In short, he loves his job … even after all these years.

Naysayers believe newspapers are dying, that technology and social media rule the day and will one day inherit the earth.

Perhaps. I can’t say with certainty. Nor can Larry. 

But we know this: Although our trade faces a tough row to hoe, print journalism remains a noble cause when left in the hands of those who believe for every societal bad there are 10 community goods. You just have to open your eyes.

News is news wherever you go. Just as it can drag us down, it can also pick us up. To achieve both requires not only balance, but a commitment to find it.

That’s the role of community newspapers. That’s the meaning of what we do. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why old codgers like Larry stay with it for a lifetime. Maybe, just maybe, it is what will keep newspapers around just as long.

When choosing the Richard Kluger quote to preface this column, I found the following internet response from a lady named Becky Davis. Posted Aug. 16, 2017, she offered:

“When you read a newspaper, you evaluate and make your own decisions about the events surrounding us. There is no underlining tone or an opinionated attitude in the newspaper. When you aren’t interested in a topic, you don’t have to wait until someone is done belaboring the issue. You just turn the page and move on. I love my newspaper.”

Newspapers love readers like Becky.

Newspapers rely on journalists like Larry.

———

(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at rick.norton@clevelandbanner.com.)


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