Does this make me a blogger instead of a columnist? I don’t know but I prefer to think of myself as a columnist.
I can tell you this, for sure. When I first started writing for the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Jan. 8, 1965, if someone had told me that in 2016 I might be called a blogger I would have been quite mystified — and concerned.
First of all, I suppose I would have been glad to know that I’d still be alive and kicking in 2016 but I think I would have wondered if a blogger was not some sort of criminal. Maybe like a burglar, perhaps, or someone who carried out other nefarious deeds in the dead of night.
Anyway, just call me a columnist, if you will. I’ve always tended to prefer slightly old fashioned terms anyway. Again, when I began my career as a writer, I considered myself a newspaperman, or at least a reporter. A journalist, perhaps? Nah, that smacked too much of the effete.
I was just a regular newspaper man, who was often sent out at 11 p.m. into the mean streets of the Big Easy to cover a murder, or a nasty automobile fatality, ready and able to telephone in the story to the rewrite man back in the newsroom, right on deadline.
After work, we drank beer with other newspaper men and with cops, bookies, hustlers and other assorted creatures of the night.
The Times-Picayune was then located on Lafayette Square, right in the middle of the old New Orleans business district. It was surrounded by bars such as Curley’s Corner, a tavern that catered to broken down boxers and, again, newspaper men who could afford and enjoy a good 25-cent beer.
Let me give you a flavor of the neighborhood by telling you what happened to me on the day I went for my interview with the TP managing editor. I was walking up to the TP building on Lafayette Street when a rough-looking character approached me and informed me that he had just gotten out of Angola and that he needed a little money.
I can’t exactly say it was a robbery, but I sure as heck felt intimidated. I didn’t have but a few dollars on me, but I felt compelled to give some of the cash to the newly released con. I think I kept enough to buy me a hamburger and a Coke for lunch — which probably cost about a dollar.
Well, I got the job and although the paper stayed in that questionable location for another two years before moving to a new building out by the expressway, I never again encountered an ex-con who demanded money. Lots of winos, as we politically incorrectly called street alcoholics at the time, would humbly approach and ask for a handout, but that we could handle.
We all looked forward to the move, though. The wooden floor of the old building was scarred with the black remains of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stamped out cigarette butts. The newsroom still had the air of the time when it had been built, in the 1920s.
The new building was gleaming and sparkling clean. After only a few years in the new location, smoking was banned and we switched from manual to electric typewriters and then to word processors. Finally, primitive computers came along. The times and the Times-Picayune were a changing.
After the paper made the move, its old neighborhood was pretty much revitalized. Poydras Street was widened and modernized, with handsome new skyscrapers being built on the sites of the old wino bars. Now, the “new” building is abandoned, as the TP is concentrating on its online site and no longer offers full seven-day a week home delivery. Dozens of reporters have lost their jobs in recent years, not just at the New Orleans paper, but all over the country.
So, I suppose online is where it’s at these days.
For you readers who have been used to seeing my column in the local newspaper here, please note that the NPJ is my new journalistic home. I will continue to write my Slice of Life column on Thursdays.
Some of you may have been surprised to see my first effort for the NPJ, a political rant 11 days ago about the poor choice we have in this country’s presidential candidates. It was a column nothing at all like my usual fare of nostalgic memories and quirky observations of everyday life. But I had to vent and the editors of the NPJ have given me latitude to occasionally write about topics of special interest to me — and hopefully to you.
However, my regular Thursday columns, like this one, will be more like what you are accustomed to seeing from me. For all of you who have read me in print, let’s continue our relationship and to you who are seeing me for the first time on NPJ, I hope you find these scribblings worth a few moments of your busy time.