December 09, 2023

Graduates, the one constant is change

Digital age transforms writer’s career

Whether it’s related to my retirement freelance gig covering some sports for the News Advertiser, or my position as a middle school basketball coach, I frequently receive graduation announcements.

I’m always honored that someone remembered the ol’ coach from a winter spent together, or perhaps had been interviewed a few times as we became acquainted. I enjoy seeing them reach a life milestone and I always encourage them to go out and discover themselves. My undergrad years in Iowa City formed the rest of my life and left treasured memories.

An invitation from one of my former players included a series of questions I was requested to answer on a card. When asked to provide any advice, my answer is to always accept change. It’s coming whether you’re ready for it or not.

There’s no way to head it off, if you want to maintain any relevancy.

I learned that throughout my career. Out of college, I started writing on a Royal manual typewriter at the Atlantic News-Telegraph. Someone else converted that text on a typesetter that produced columns of newsprint that would literally be “pasted” onto a blank full-sized page. That preceded the process of producing the paper en masse on the press.

Everything gradually improved and became more efficient through technology, to the point that everything done in the newsroom was conducted on computers, including downloading of images and editing them for inclusion in the product. When I started at the News Advertiser in 1984, a room now used for product storage was the dark room. I took my turns developing film and using the enlarger to make prints. It’s an obsolete skill, but I learned it!

I kept up with the technology advances through the in-house trainings and, frankly, having two young sons in the house who absorbed every new technological development at the speed of light.

Now, the convenience of the digital society allows me to do 90 percent of my work on my laptop in my living room. Certainly, change has been for the better, overall.

But, once the Internet came of age, and social media exploded, there was an erosion to the foundation of my industry. Up to then, the newspaper and radio station were relied on almost exclusively by a community’s residents to keep up on local happenings, and tributes about the accomplishments of their neighbors and their children.

I came to grips a long time ago that it was happening, and I was just grateful that I was able to work full-time in the business for 40 years while it was still healthy. It only began to diminish in stature among the new generations coming up at the tail end of my run.

We have an online product and that will ultimately be the source of our content, if we can successfully make the conversion. As for the print product, I noticed what appears to be an end to an era while on the graduation party circuit.

There are still wonderful displays of photos, awards and scholarship certificates spread out for visitors. But, the days of seeing collections or displays of “newspaper clips” from their extracurricular activities have just about expired. I get it. It’s a sign of the times.

I took the attached photo of the one clip I came upon. It was a photo I took of Aleah Calvin playing basketball. I had also coached Aleah in seventh grade basketball, so it was a cool memory for both of us.

It’s a change I’ll have to get used to in the coming years.

Someone from our past here is also going through change. One of Iowa’s best sportswriters who got his start working next to me is leaving the business as he approaches his 45th birthday. Matt Coss was 21 years old and straight out of UNI when he joined the News Advertiser staff in 1999.

I could tell then that he was going to be special, and he was right up to yesterday when he announced the Coed State Track and Field Meet was his final duty as Quad-City Times sports editor.

The industry, particularly the chain of newspapers he worked for, has gone through a series of staff reductions over time. His department was responsible for sports content for three newspapers — The Quad City Times, Dispatch-Argus (Illinois side of the region) and Muscatine Journal. Two of them are published seven days a week, while Muscatine has six papers each week.

A sports staff of four full-time employees produce for those papers. When he started 11 years ago, there were 11 writers on sports staffs at those three papers combined. The same coverage is expected, but fewer resources, so Matt worked 108 of the previous 110 days when he made his recent decision to step away. He’s married, and I know full well that wives make sacrifices in this situation, but that’s simply asking too much.

We both loved the work, and like me, he expects to keep it up as a freelancer while going down another vocational lane. He’s not old like me, so he can still explore the possibilities.

So, graduates, you may have a plan right now. But, expect to be bumped off course at some time by the Big Ship Change. What you can control is how you handle it.


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Twitter: @larrypeterson

Larry Peterson


Former senior feature writer at Creston News Advertiser and columnist. Previous positions include sports editor for many years and assistant editor. Also a middle school basketball coach in Creston.