I’ve been a newspaperman for most of my life, during the last decades of American journalism when getting the story was all that mattered. I hope they lead my obit with that when the time comes.
I fear I still have ink in my veins because I miss the newsroom, even after more than a decade of being away. Within those tobacco-smoke-stained walls were the most profound and profane people I’ve ever met. They helped shape who I became.
So did Uncle Frank all those many years ago. A garbage man by trade, he and my Aunt Yona bought a small bungalow in far off Lindenhurst, L.I, in the late 1950s. Long Island then was a wilderness of potato farms surrounded by vast marshes. The little house was one of two on the sandy road and within a clam-shell toss of the beach. My cousin, Gulio, and I spent summers roaming that deserted beach at will, picking through the mounds of seaweed, looking for hidden delights. We roamed our little corner of the Great South Bay, fishing for flounder and blues, gigging eels in the marsh grass, digging for clams, netting pugnacious blue crabs.
I realize now that the seeds of environmentalism and a deep and abiding love for the watery world at our borders were planted in that 10-year-old Brooklyn boy during those summers.
The brown trout of North Mills River and the largemouth bass of Lake Lure fertilized those seeds when I moved to Asheville, N.C., in the mid-1960s. It was not the funky town it is today. You made your fun then. Mine was enticing fat trout with artificial nymphs or mighty bass with plastic worms. Roaming the mountains is search of a good fishing hole gave me an appreciation for deep woods, clear babbling streams and rattling, threatening snakes.
I was hooked and never seriously considered living anywhere else but in North Carolina
Those seeds blossomed 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, at the Winston-Salem Journal when I became the environment and special projects reporter. Luckily, I had editors who let me follow my nose. It usually led me to the coast where I came back with stories about the death of the Pamlico River after decades of abuse, the disappearance of coastal culture under the wave of development, shady land deals that allowed developers to move a state road and open North Topsail Beach for development and drillers eyeing the waters off the Outer Banks for oil and natural gas.
It turned out that I was pretty good at this stuff. My environmental reporting has won numerous awards, including three Public Service Awards from the N.C. Press Association, a national award from the Scripps-Howard Foundation and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the N.C. Sierra Club.
I loved the job, but the newspaper business no longer loved me, or at least not the long-form journalism that I excelled at. As the industry contracted, that kind of journalism was considered a luxury. I saw the handwriting on the wall and reluctantly left on my own terms before getting coerced out the door.
I started a new life on the coast in 2002 as a Coastkeeper for the N.C. Coastal Federation. It was strange shedding my role as observer and chronicler for one that advocated for a clean environment and strong rules.
But writing is what I do. At the federation, I was also the lead writer and editor of a variety of publications, including the annual State of the Coast Report. The reports covered topics as varied as climate change and the N.C. coast, oyster restoration and the loss of coastal culture.
Through it all Todd Miller, my boss, friend and federation founder, and I moaned about the lack of media coverage of important coastal issues. Staff cuts meant that most newspapers didn’t have the reporters to cover the environment in any kind of detail or depth. Advocacy groups rely on good media coverage to inform the public about important environmental issues.
So in February 2012 we launched our experiment, Coastal Review Online, in an attempt to fill the gap in environmental news coverage. Could an advocacy group publish a credible daily news service? Relying primarily on a staff of freelance writers who are former newspaper reporters, we stressed from the very beginning that we would adhere to the highest journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy and balance.
CRO, one of only three nonprofit news services in the state, has succeeded beyond all expectations. More than 200,000 people a year people now read the site, www.coastalreview.org, which is now the go-to place for coastal environmental news coverage. That experiment is now a respected media presence with more than 40 journalism awards from the N.C. Press Association over the last three years.
That made this old newsman proud in 2016 when I added the –30– to end a long career. That career began in dingy newsrooms of 1940s’ vintage where the walls shook when the presses in the basement started the nightly runs that would inform a city and ended in digital publishing where a push of a button is all that’s need to reach the world. Life is strange.
Odds & Ends
- Born April 30, 1951, in Brooklyn, N.Y., but have lived in North Carolina most of my adult life
- Graduated from East Carolina University in 1973 with degrees in English and geology
- Author of three history books, including the definitive history of Winston-Salem and a corporate history of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. that focused on the lead role the company played in the tobacco industry’s decades-long conspiracy to hide the health effects of cigarette smoking.
- Lives in Swansboro with Doris, a retired school teacher and my wife of 45 years
- Our daughter, Diana, is working toward her Ph.D. in education at UNC-Chapel Hill
- Elected to the Swansboro Board of Commissioners in Nov. 2015 in my first try at elected office. Currently, I’m the board’s mayor pro tem
- Avid fisherman and model boat builder