Whittle: Talking newspapers all day long

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Did you ever get up in the morning with three inches of snow on the ground in tundra-like (9 actual degrees with wind) weather conditions, but you knew it was going to be a great day?


Like old Chicago Cubs' baseball Hall of Famer Ernie (It's A Great Day To Play 2) Banks, I'm one of those blessed humans who loves what I do to draw a pay check.

One of chef Carolyn Burnett's recent "pork chop days" at Cannon County's Parsley's (country) Grocery provided the after-fine-meal setting to talk "newspapering" with professional word men Hooper Penuel, Jerry Lyles and Ron Fryar.

What did we talk about? Some newspaper traditions, of course.

Did you know that all major U.S. newspapers in the early 1900s had mongrel dogs as newsroom mascots, taken off the streets?

And it was taboo to "whistle" in a newsroom. To "whistle" could be construed with not being serious about your work.

I shared that a doctor of my past sent a note to the newspaper's publisher: "Reporter Whittle has ink in his blood."

From back in the 1990s, we discussed "ink" that was being used to fuel a new multi-million-dollar color press at one of our former newspaper places of employment.

Three months after installation, that expensive press was producing a myriad of colors that were not supposed to come off the press with multiple exotic red, white and blue hues.

After high-octane-priced specialists were called in from throughout the U.S., the new press' cost escalated by another $150,000 for the so-called press experts.

So what ultimately solved the problem of keeping colors in register on the new multi-million-dollar press?

Drum roll please and STOP THE PRESSES ! (I only got to use that dramatic "stop the presses" order three times in a 50-year writing career.)

"The problem turned out to be our press room foreman was color blind," confessed Fryar, one of the best and most colorful modern-day newspaper publishers in the Great State of Tennessee.

How talented is Fryar? So good, he's serving his second term as president of the Tennessee Press Association that represents newspapers throughout the Volunteer State.

Penuel, who left newspapering in the 1970s to become a high-ranking public relations' officer in the Tennessee Air National Guard, recalled the year 1993, when he took a cast of journalists into an active war zone over in Europe.

"It was the first time in state military history the Guard was accompanied by news professionals into a war zone with hot fire coming from the Serbs," Penuel shared.

"Guess who was the "first official" Tennessee newspaperman to accompany the Guard into Bosnia?" Penuel chal-lenged. "On a tech-nicality, it was Dan Whittle as we ap-proached Sarajevo, when C-130 pilot Capt. Hoot Gibson had Whittle brought up from the back cargo area, to be in the cockpit, officially ahead of all the other journalists in back of the plane."

I piped up in defense of my honor: "Technicality? Or Not? I'm forever the 'first' Tennessee journalist to accompany our brave Air National Guard soldiers where live enemy ammunition was firing on our fleet of C-130s delivering food and meds to starving war re-fugees."

Cannon Courier Publisher Fryar fired a semi-friendly volley into the fray: "I assigned Whittle to go with Lt. Col. Penuel to a war zone, on condition it was a one-way trip."

Newsroom veteran Lyles', talented senior vice president with the Athlon Media Group in Nashville, shared how he broke into newspapering back in native Kentucky.

"I started as an intern in the newsroom of a small daily while still in high school," former reporter Lyles noted back in time. "It was a big day whenI was called into the boss's office to be told I would be hired as a professional reporter upon graduation from high school.

"The publisher then reached in his desk, brought out a fifth of Wild Turkey, and offered me a 'drink,'" Lyles recalled. "I hated to reply: 'Sir, I'm only 18 ... not of age to drink hard liquor legally.'"

Lyles was describing an old newsroom tradition, that of keeping a stash of bourbon in your newsroom desk. It was mostly a man's tradition, but I knew a gal reporter or two that partook of Jack Daniels.

As a veteran newspaperman, I'm familiar with that tradition ...

When I was a feature writer for the now defunct Nashville Banner back in the 1970s, the Banner news staff shared a long 10-stall rest room with the Tennesseans' reporters/editors. The two highly-competitive staffs were separated in the same building at 1100 Broad by a short hallway.

"The Banner's end of the lavatory regularly reeked of whiskey," I sniffed back in time. "The Tennessean's end of the restroom was often rank with the smell of marijuana."

On this "high note," I end this trail of newspapering tales, in time to make "dead line." All professional reporters know the rule: "You ain't a pro, if you can't make deadline!" (-30-)

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