I spent four years with The Cheraw Chronicle, time which barely registers when compared against its 126 year history. But those were important years for me.
It was my first real job out of college, a chance to prove that the money I sunk into higher learning was a wise investment. It was also an opportunity for readers to point out, with a frequency I found disturbing, that my money might have been better spent on scratch-off lottery tickets — preferably in another state.
Because I was a history major, my experience in journalism was limited to a few months working on my college newspaper. It was more of a hobby than an academic exercise, and I’m not sure I even received credit for my meager contributions to the school paper.
So, during my job interview for The Chronicle, I argued that the difference between journalism and history was only a matter of deadlines. To this day I’m not sure if that argument hurt or helped me, seeing as how the person conducting the interview had a journalism degree.
My first story assignment didn’t go well. I was assigned to write about a couple celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, an interview that involved a lot more blood than I anticipated.
While looking for an old photograph for the newspaper to use with the story, the husband banged his head against the mantel of a fireplace. He didn’t even notice the injury and returned to the interview, chatting politely as blood streamed down his face. His wife, thankfully, intervened. They were such nice people.
I’ve never worked for a newspaper that I could classify as “predictable,” which is especially odd when you consider how inflexible and disciplined our production schedules are.
Government meetings are scheduled as far as a year in advance, as are high school sporting events and town festivals. This allows a newspaper reporter to tell you, with the accuracy of a laser, exactly where they will be standing on the planet at any given day of the year.
When an ice storm in the late ‘90s knocked out power all over the county we still managed to get The Cheraw Chronicle to the stands in a timely manner, because even Mother Nature bows to the will of the press schedule.
That being said, the ruthless routine of a newspaper is sometimes broken by moments I’d charitably describe as “bizarre.” When I took a job at The Chronicle I would never have guessed I’d interview actor Chad Everett on the steps of Cheraw Town Hall. Or that I’d find myself hanging out the open window of a small airplane to take photos of a train wreck. Or that the lead singer of Blue Oyster Cult would call me at work. Or that my friend and co-worker Mark Wood would have to re-locate (on two occasions) an ambitious bat found hanging over my desk. Or that I’d ever have to make a conscious decision to respect the privacy of Cyndi Lauper. Or … you get the point.
I also got to meet some of my favorite people in Cheraw. Wilbert and John Motley inspired me to learn a little more about music that didn’t have the words “rock” or “roll” in the genre heading. Despite the “Clemson Vs. USC” nature of our professional relationship I’ve always liked Jay Hodge. Rob Stewart’s mother once chastised me for referring to her as “elderly” in a headline, which still makes me smile. And I miss Libby Eddins, who always let me use her office for the brutal task of transcribing court reports.
It’s difficult to spend much time at a newspaper without leaving a little of yourself in it. The design and format has seen a few changes over the years but the ideas of its creative staff, both past and present, are still represented within the pages every Thursday.
The font used for The Cheraw Chronicle’s “flag” on the front page is Olde English, selected when Mardy Jackson was editor of the newspaper (and was coincidentally symbolic of the town’s place in the Olde English District of South Carolina.)
The Chesterfield Advertiser was a concept born when Ross Norton was the publisher. Named for a deceased Chesterfield newspaper, the Advertiser was devised to give Chesterfield readers their own front page each week as a “zoned edition” of the Chronicle. It also meant fewer complaints from Cheraw readers about “too much” Chesterfield news on the front page of the Cheraw paper, which probably added years to my life. While the idea was scrapped by a later editor, the name was integrated into the publication’s full name.
Shannon Justice selected the font for The Advertiser while I designed the original logo. Whenever I see a copy of The Cheraw Chronicle on the newsstands I’m immediately taken back to those days.