Sports broadcasting legend Jack Whitaker once said, “Fate has a way of bending the twig and fashioning a man to his better instincts.”
I have always loved that saying. It has really haunted me lately (in a good way) as I get ready to attend a reunion — and a very special one at that.
It is a celebration marking the 25th anniversary of the closing of the San Antonio Light, where I began my newspaper career 36 years ago.
Close to 100 people will be gathering in San Antonio to talk about old times and mark the historic end of a 112-year newspaper war in the Alamo City between The Light and the Express-News.
I remember it well; the day the announcement came down and later the final edition we printed. At the time, it was a sad, gut-wrenching deal. What happened was partly a sign of the times. Both papers were slowly but surely bleeding to death in an age when it was painfully clear that markets such as San Antonio could not realistically support two large daily newspapers.
And as it happened, Hearst Corp., which owned The Light, agreed to buy the Express-News from Rupert Murdoch. But a condition of the sale prevented Murdoch’s employees from being displaced for a certain period of time following the change of control. So ultimately Hearst was placed in the unenviable position of closing The Light and displacing its talented staff. It turned out to be a nightmarish way for a company to win a newspaper war.
At the time, it was truly devastating for so many of us who worked at The Light. I had worked my way up to the position of Sunday Editor. I loved that newspaper and had so many dear friends who worked there. Up until the editor walked into the newsroom and announced the deal, I was convinced my entire career would be with The Light.
And as I left work that evening, I remember openly weeping as I walked to my car, thinking fate had pulled the rug out from under my life.
Fate actually did me a huge favor.
What happened to me at The Light was my first serious lesson about change, something that is a constant in all of our lives — and especially in our industry.
Our industry has always faced change. In recent years it seems to be more disruptive, threatening. We’re preoccupied by it; we fear it; we anticipate it; we sometimes revel in it; we try to be an agent for it. Heck, I think about it so much, I think I even mentioned it in a previous column!
What happened to The Light 25 years ago taught me that change is life. And sometimes with life, as with other people, you have absolutely no control over how either treats you. The only thing you can control is how you choose to react. And oftentimes how you choose to react can make all the difference in the world.
Every one of us who worked at The Light when it shut its press down for good, did what most really good reporters do when they hit a wall trying to run down a big story. They stew and swear. Maybe they cry in frustration . . . or find something to kick. And then they just figure out another way to get at the story and keep plugging. And they usually wind up getting a pretty darned good story in the end.
My career has been a wonderful story that I probably never would have really ferreted out had that grand old paper not closed its doors a quarter of a century ago. So many colleagues with whom I worked have gone on to do so many incredible things since then: educators, authors, star reporters for national publications.
I smile and think of the late Bruce Beal, an editor at The Light who went on to publish the Weimer Mercury. Bruce was so passionate about it and he was so great at it – as if he had spent his whole life in the weekly newspaper business.
I think about all of this – and all of my old friends – as I get ready to head out to San Antonio.
I can’t help but feel so fortunate.
To edit another turn of phrase, I suspect when we all get together, we will spend our time not being sad that a wonderful run ended 25 years ago.
We’ll all be smiling because it happened.