In previous chapters of what I have come to refer to as “The Adventures of a Small-Town Newspaperman,” I have chronicled such amazing feats as unclogging the women’s room toilet, disposing of a dead rat found in the alley, changing the broken windshield wiper on the delivery van in single-digit temps and having the taste slapped out of my mouth by what could best be described as a disgruntled reader.
I suppose graduates of fancy journalism schools were prepared for such things, but I was an English major and, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “To be or not to be, that is the question when removing a dead rat from the alley.”
But, a small-town newspaper man I be, and the adventures continue for better or worse. The following is about going from cussed to blessed in a matter of seconds, a rarity even in this profession.
It started with a phone call from a mother of a teen who, in the eyes of the law, had done something egregious enough to result in criminal charges and those charges were serious enough to appear in the newspaper.
Typically, in these circumstances, mothers of teens charged with crimes serious enough to publish are not calling to congratulate the paper on its dedication to community journalism.
Here is an example of a phone call I have never gotten.
“ Hello, this is Mrs. Pettibone -- Gerald’s mom – and I just wanted to call and let you know how much I enjoyed the story about Gerald being charged with shooting out the windows of all the buses at the high school.”
No, those types of phone calls go, for the most part, like the one I received from a woman who was not Mrs. Pettibone, though we will continue to use that fictional name for the remainder of this mostly true tale.
“ Hello, this is Mrs. Pettibone – Gerald’s mom –and I didn’t think you could put the names of minors in the newspaper.”
At that point, I admit to being caught a little off guard. I do not have perfect recall of every single story I edit over the course of weeks, and I searched my memory bank hoping the name Pettibone rang a bell or whether or not we published an unflattering critique of the mining industry in case she was referring to miners instead of minors.
“ I’m sorry Mrs. Pettibone, what did Gerald do?” I asked.
“ What did Gerald do according to the police?”
“ Shot out the windows of all the buses at the high school.”
Again, this is not the actual crime --it was worse -- but for the sake of this column we will stick with it.
“ How old is Gerald?”
“ He’s 16.”
Starting in 2019, North Carolina will raise the age, 100 years after creating the juvenile code that defined 16- and 17-year-olds as adults and, for lesser crimes, they will be treated as juveniles. Unfortunately for Gerald, he was a little too quick on the trigger.
“ Currently in this state, 16 and 17 year olds who commit crimes are treated as adults in the criminal justice system,” I informed her as gently as I could.
“ I’ve never seen the names of any other 16 or 17 year olds printed in the newspaper,” she said.
“ We've done it a lot.”
“ BULL****! You –“
“ Wait, wait, wait,” I said, hoping to stop her before we got to anything about my mother or insisting that I can go do something that is anatomically impossible. “I promise you we have.”
“ Well,” she said. “I’m not going to argue. You have a blessed day.”
That ended our conversation. I went from cussed to blessed in a matter of seconds. And considering, I didn’t have to unstop the women’s room toilet, remove a dead rat from the alley, change the wiper on the delivery van or have the taste slapped out of my mouth, I did indeed have a blessed day.
Scott Hollifield is editor of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.