My first freelance journalist job was with the Richmond News Leader as a reporter and feature writer covering events and meetings in three Virginia counties. When John Gunn, the state editor at the time, interviewed me, he explained that while he didn't want me chasing fire trucks, he did expect me to carry a camera and report any breaking news. John taught me so much about journalism--training I cherish to this day.
The job was exciting. I got to keep up with everything in our town and in the surrounding three counties. I found that one of the hardest duties was covering county boards of supervisors meetings where cigarette smoke swirled from inside the rooms in heavy, thick clouds. Talk about second-hand smoke!
During nine years of reporting for that paper, I got to meet and photograph many of the most important people in the area. I dined with all kinds of groups from woodcutters to General Assembly members. It was an exciting time, especially for a young woman who never planned to be a part-time writer/reporter and who stumbled accidentally into the job.
So many memories came back earlier this week when someone asked me about using photos I took as a News Leader freelancer in a book a local group is putting together. When the News Leader ceased publication, I thought all my photographs and articles were lost. I am thrilled to discover they are not and am wondering if it will be possible for me to create a book using some of the published feature articles I wrote on my typewriter after extensive research.
In those days before the Internet, I dictated news stories over the telephone to meet a mid-morning deadline for the afternoon newspaper. Feature articles went by way of the postal service. I mailed rolls of film Special Delivery or, if urgent, sent them by someone who worked in the city near the newspaper offices.
It's amazing how much everything changed from the last years of the 20th century to now. Because of digital pictures, the change in photography is especially profound.
I look back on those freelance writing and photography days with nostalgia. The big newspapers are almost all gone now, replaced in many cases with what look like pamphlets. While I love my digital camera, I'm glad I have memories of opening the pages of those city papers and finding my byline and photographs with the credit, "Sikes photo".