It was rather flattering in the summer of 1999, which was a pretty depressing summer for me, I received a phone call from a reporter researching a story for American Journalism Review.
She told me she had received a tip that I had been fired as managing editor of The Carthage Press and they were interested in doing a story about it.
My head swelled more than a little bit. Being considered as the subject of a national magazine story is not something that happens to a guy from Newtonia.
We reviewed the circumstances behind my departure, she told me she would be contacting my former employer then she would get back to me. Her angle seemed to be that I was fired because I was in my 40s and making too much money.
That seemed to be the logical reason, even though that would have been illegal. After all, during the nine years I was at The Press, the newspaper earned more than 120 awards, including the approximately 70 I won. That figure, by the way, was more than any other reporter in the state of Missouri during the 1990s and that was one reason AJR was considering doing the story. These awards included more than 30 for investigative reporting, a number for community service and several for feature writing and sports reporting.
The Carthage Press featured strong writing from a lot more people than just me. Young reporters such as Ron Graber, Cait Purinton, Brian Webster, Amy Lamb Campbell, Keegan Checkett, and Jana Blankenship were featured, along with strong, experienced writers such as Marvin VanGilder and Jack Harshaw. We took pride in competing with the Globe on big stories and more often than not, beating the Globe.
This probably sounds like bragging (and that is something I do not like to do), but after reading over the comments on one of my other websites, Wildcat Central, for the first time in a while last night, I feel like it is time to answer some of these critics (most of whom, I am sure, are connected to the superintendent of the Diamond R-4 School District).
Some of those who are posting on that website (usually under the poll results, sometimes on the guestbook) are spreading that old story that I have never been able to hold a job. Considering the source, that accusation takes a lot of gall, but never mind that.
Those who have read the articles on the Wildcat Central Diamond Daily and Archives pages know what happened to me at Diamond. I simply ran into a bully who was not comfortable having someone with a strong journalism background near him. If the decision on whether to keep me on the staff had been left up to the principal, the parents, the community (or even the students) I would still be there. Things worked out well for me, however. One posting last night insists that I must be continuing to write things because I hold a grudge. I will admit, I have spent a quarter of a century exposing wrongdoing and there is a lot of wrongdoing going on in Diamond, but I have not posted anything new on Wildcat Central for almost six weeks and before that, it had been nearly two months. This is not an obsession.
The last job I left before that one was at The Carthage Press. I am still not altogether certain why that job ended after more than nine years. It could be because of the money aspect, but someone who was in a position to know told me later it was fallout from Terry Reed's lawsuit against me and Liberty Group Publishing after the 1998 American Heritage Festival in Carthage. It was the only time I was ever sued for something I wrote (it was an article on the Press's opinion page). The judge threw out the part of the suit aimed at me because I wrote was clearly labeled opinion and was constitutionally protected. Unfortunately, by that time, Liberty had to pay $10,000, the deductible on our libel insurance, and company president Ken Serota was none too happy about that. So I am still really not sure what happened, but that seems likely.
Before that, the last job I had was as managing editor of The Lamar Democrat, a post I held from November 1982 until the end of March 1990. That job I left on my own to take the job at Carthage. In other words, in 22 years, I was fired from two jobs. I don't consider being fired by Ralph Bush or Mark Mayo to be black marks on my record. I might add, that in both cases, it didn't take me long to find a job.
There was also a post (which didn't stay on long because of the obscenities) that said I had been run out of journalism. That was definitely not the case. After I left the Press, I was offered positions as managing editor at Miami, Okla, Siloam Springs, and The Neosho Post, as well as reporting positions at two other newspapers in northwest Arkansas. I worked very briefly as a fill-in at the Nevada Daily Mail and was offered a job there. By that point, I wanted to go into teaching.
When I was put on an unpaid leave of absence at Diamond, something school districts are allowed to do by claiming financial hardships so they can break signed contracts, I was talking with the Neosho Daily News about a reporting position. They understood that if a teaching position came up before the 2003-2004 school year started I was going to take it and just a few days after our conversations, I was hired at Joplin.
I doubt if this post is going to stop the character assassination campaign that has been aimed at me by the superintendent and his sycophants, but I am a bit tired of these lies.
And at least I give people who disagree with me the opportunity to express their viewpoints (even those which are being orchestrated) unlike some of my critics.
American Journalism Review never did the story and I was somewhat relieved by that. As in most cases, it was one man's word against another.
I might conclude by saying that I was fired twice, but Ralph Bush was kind enough to give me glowing recommendations to the people at Miami and Siloam Springs, and perhaps others I am not aware of. No one has ever questioned my loyalty, my skill, and most of all, my work ethic. When people hire me, I have always done my best to see that they are getting their money's worth.