The predawn hours are filled with a certain, specific kind of anticipation. The sun is on its way, soon to break through with splintered light across the sky, illuminating familiar sights. With maybe a surprise, too. The air is cooler in those dark hours, creating another kind of anticipation – not just the onset of light, but actual warmth.
Growing up in Miami, Fla., ”warmth” meant heat and humidity, of course. Even in the darkness, the scents were unmistakable: Remnants of night-blooming jasmine, gardenias, freshly-cut grass.
As kids, we were woken up in these hours only for special occasions, usually. Heading to the beach on Easter Sunday for sunrise service. Going on vacation in the car and getting ”out in front of traffic,” as it was explained. And, for a few years, the daily ritual of delivering The Miami Herald.
Mom would wake and feed us with extreme efficiency. Then, it was off to fold the newspapers (in plastic bags if we had rain, a thick rubber band if it was dry). We’d load them all into the old, aqua-marine blue Pontiac station wagon and off we’d go; my brothers and me in the back well of the wagon, free of seat belts, leaning out of the rear window and flinging newspapers to both sides of the street.
When I was old enough, I had my own route, delivering the afternoon paper, The Miami News. The paper was more focused on hyper-local and unique coverage – things the bigger, morning paper might overlook. Reading that paper gave me a different perspective on the city and its people. In fact, it often featured stories of the marginalized, shining a light on a world that wasn’t part of my experiences.
I took on more routes throughout my teen years. The North Dade Journal was a small weekly, and I had a large delivery area. I mowed lawns in the neighborhood too, but the paper delivery business via my cherry-red, three-speed Huffy bike, with wire baskets in front and on each side of the rear wheel, is how I earned the most money. I bought my first car with the cash I earned tossing rolled up newspapers, as well as going door-to-door to collect subscription fees, usually in the form of spare change.
One afternoon, I saw a fellow carrier tossing an entire basket-full of papers into a dumpster behind a local business. It felt like a betrayal. Not for all of the people whose sweat and effort created the paper, but for the readers who were being deprived of the full utilitarian and creative content that it contained.
You see, it’s always been about the readers.
After 25 years in newspaper journalism – including stops throughout Florida, Alabama, Nevada, Utah and Texas – I landed at ESPN in Bristol, Conn. The sports broadcasting company’s public marketing slogan was ”The Worldwide Leader in Sports.” That was true enough. Internally, the company’s mission statement was clear and focused: ”To Serve Sports Fans. Anytime. Anywhere.”
You see, it’s always been about serving too, actually.
Readers, online viewers, listeners. Friends and family. Workers, executives, full-timers and part-timers. Lovers of the arts, commentary, business and sports. People committed to social justice and community improvement. The people who go to church, and those who prefer Saturday night pints to Sunday morning pews.
As a kid, I wanted to be a part of it all. I loved being an ”ink-stained wretch,” whether it was my dirty hands after folding all of those newspapers or later, from marking up proofs or dealing with the ”engraving room” and ”paste-up” areas. I loved the hypnotic fury and repetition and roar of the presses.
On Monday, March 4, that kid walked into the newsroom as owner and publisher of The Creswell Chronicle, humble and ready to serve.
Thank you for the opportunity.