Giving up the green eyeshade after 50-plus exciting years

Tools of the journalism trade, not so long ago.
Tools of the journalism trade, not so long ago. The Herald-Sun

Sometime around 1965 I was in the office of The Mount Airy Times. I suspect it was a school holiday, maybe around Christmas or Thanksgiving. I covered some high school sports and took – and developed – pictures for the struggling weekly owned by the parents of one of my best high school friends.

A pipe had broken in the office of a well-regarded lawyer (if I recall right, the district attorney) a couple blocks away. The editor, a chain-smoking high school graduate named R. J. Berrier, a treasured mentor to this day, sent me over to have a look.

My story led the paper the next day.

I was hooked.

It’s not hard to do the math and realize I’ve been committing journalism for more than half a century, from that after-school and summer stint at the Mount Airy Times, through successively The Chronicle at Duke University, The Raleigh Times, the Charlotte Observer, the (State College, Pa.) Centre Daily Times, The Messenger Inquirer in Owensboro, Ky., and finally – twice – The Herald-Sun. I was the editor of those past three papers, so I’ve been leading newsrooms for more than three decades.

As most of you know, I’m giving up that green eyeshade. I’m a few weeks shy of 69, and I’m ready to sleep a little later, read The New York Times more leisurely and The Herald-Sun less obsessively; have dinner more often with my wife of almost 48 years and still best friend, and until he leaves for graduate school in a couple of months, my son; and, as a retiring colleague once observed, enjoy a snowstorm without worrying who is going to write the weather story.

It has been quite a ride.

On a credenza in my office are arrayed an upright Royal manual typewriter, a Speed Graphic camera, a film-developing canister and a black, rotary-dial telephone. I’ve used them all (not the same ones, but similar models). I’ve banged out stories on three-ply-carbon paper in smoke-filled newsrooms (although I’ve never smoked) and once, in those Mount Airy Times days, had a rudimentary knowledge of how to set type on a Linotype machine.

Today the print newspaper business is fading. But my colleagues who will carry on this enterprise are building a digital presence that we are convinced can succeed, and continue to gather and deliver the kind of investigative and explanatory journalism that drew most of us into this business in the first place. We can do it and deliver it in a way that works for this century the way that high-speed rotary printing presses and carriers on bikes worked in the middle of the last.

I have relished my time in this business. I’ll not miss the midnight calls about press breakdowns, the occasional 16-hour day, the cold sweat when you know the editorial has to be finished in an hour and you have no idea what to write.

I will miss the wonderful people, the committed zealots and quirky characters that make up any newsroom. I’ll miss the cockpit seat for the ever-surprising, ever-changing unfolding of the day’s news.

I’ll miss all of you, many of whom have reached out to me with warm and gratifying words these past four weeks since I announced I was retiring.

I’ll still be here in this community in which I’ve been so deeply engaged, looking for ways to be involved and to contribute.

Thanks for your support all these years. See you around.

Bob Ashley will retire June 23 as editor of The Herald-Sun. After that, you can reach him at rashley48@gmail.com.