It’s often customary when one nears the end of a long career that he or she is given the opportunity to reflect on the experience, putting answers to questions like

Did I enjoy my job? Did I accomplish what I set out to do? What would I do over again, if anything? What was I good at? What was I bad at? Was it worth all the hard work and effort? Could I have been better in my duties and responsibilities? What about my dealings with co-workers and colleagues; did they respect my performance or were they glad when I decided to call it quits?

I was certainly given the chance to put into words how I felt upon exiting my chosen occupation as a journalist, a position I undertook for 44 years at various daily newspapers in three states. But, to be honest, I looked at it as another task filling up a long “to do” list as I prepared for retirement. So I just didn’t want to do it, pure and simple.

It’s been just over a year since I walked out of the Brunswick Times Record on that fateful last day, so maybe it’s a good time to look back on what I still consider to be an honorable profession. Despite today’s continuous proclamations of “fake news.”

I knew right from the 10th grade that I wanted to be in the newspaper business. I was fortunate to attend a high school that had its own publication, run by students. I was also lucky that the newspaper’s adviser, Mrs. Reeves, while being hands-off most of the time, did ask the tough questions as we delved into issues. Thus laying the foundation for accountability that would be a constant presence throughout my career.

While the degree I earned in college says history — and not journalism — that doesn’t really matter. Besides, I believe it’s a perfect match. Newspapers are all about having to deal with current events … that become historical in nature as time passes on.’

Walking into today’s newsrooms is completely different from when I started my first real job at the Sault Evening News in Michigan. Because of computerization, it’s just too dang quiet for my liking. I miss the ear-piercing clanging of the Associated Press machine, alerting editors to a news bulletin about some event happening in some far distant land — or close to home. A noisy newsroom is an alive newsroom.

Just like any job, you had “dull as dishwater” days, but then there were those times when the excitement was just overwhelming. You just never knew when something was going to blow your previous plans to bits, which is one of the main reasons I became a journalist.

For example, I was “on the desk” — which basically means I was either in charge of the newsroom or played an integral part in the decision-making process — when John Lennon was shot dead; when the first space shuttle blew up; during 9/11; the ice storm of the late ’90s in Maine, and so many other happenings. Oftentimes, because of these breaking-news current events, the front page I had spent hours putting together had to be ripped apart and redone in a hurry. Daily deadlines were a part of my life.

But one incident stands out more than any other. It was in 1975, again at the Sault Evening News. I remember as soon as I walked through the front door, I knew that something big had happened; you could literally feel it.

It was approaching 6 a.m. There were just two of us in the building; myself, as sports editor, and Eugene “Shine” Sundstrom, the editor in charge of just about everything else. He was also an expert on Great Lakes shipping, a subject he ended up writing about for 48 years. He blurted out to me, “A freighter went down,” in between taking telephone calls from publications throughout the nation, including the New York Times. We were the closest newspaper located to this catastrophic event.

The region had been hammered by a fierce November storm the previous day and evening. Even in town, the power was out, and in my mind’s eye I can still see water charging out of the Soo Locks and crashing onto the street, easily covering a distance of 20-25 yards. On nearby Lake Superior it was even worse; hurricane-force winds and waves topping out at 35 feet.

What I was witnessing and participating in as a journalist was the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the 729-foot lake freighter, and the loss of the entire crew of 29 people. It was a tragedy of enormous proportions; a story that filled the pages of that newspaper for months and years to come, and still graces them to this day on occasion.

While it’s unfortunate that, in most cases, it’s bad news that sells newspapers, I look at it another way. We, as journalists, are basically just storytellers, conveying to others the “what, where, when, why, who and how” as best we can, honestly and accurately. And that’s what I tried to do for 44 years. Thank you.

Patrick Gabrion is the former Page 1 editor of The Times Record. The preceding first appeared in People Plus News, the monthly newsletter for the Brunswick-area senior center.


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