An anniversary forever etched in a news mind

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

My first day in the newspaper business – 40 years ago  – coincided with a date that resonates in rural communities across Michigan.

For deer hunters, November 15 is sacrosanct, a time to celebrate the wonders of the Second Amendment as it intersects with the whitetail population in the woods and open lands throughout the Great Lakes State.

The opening day of the firearms season in Michigan, I discovered on a crisp fall day in 1979, is “big news” in a small town, where there seemed to be an unofficial race among deer hunters to be the first to have their photo taken with their prized buck.

As the new kid on the newspaper block, I was assigned the task of covering that bloodstained story, while also snapping the obligatory photo of a very dead deer with an overjoyed orange-clad hunter.

It was the start of a very busy production day, littered with such “breaking news” as a minor car fire at McDonald’s, the total tally from a Kiwanis Club fund-raiser, and the weekly round-up from the police beat that featured reports of a “peeping tom.”

That early introduction to the nuances of newspapering set the stage for bigger fish to fry less than a year later when the sleepy town became the scene of a real-life hostage drama involving the wife and sister-in law of the local bank president.

The drama began to unfold less than a hour before our print deadline when a customer repoted “something fishy” was going on at the bank down the block, closed for a “family emergency,” according to a hand-scrawled note taped to the front door.

A quick call to the local police chief netted a curt “no comment” reply.

A second call to a decidedly more forthcoming bank officer bore fruit, as she disclosed that the two women were being held hostage in an attempt to extort a king’s ransom from the bank president. By mid-afternoon, the story had progressed to a happy ending when law enforcement authorities arrested two men connected to the extortion scheme, one of whom was a Detroit police officer.

In sum, I had my first honest-to-goodness “breaking news” story, the kind that eventually attracted news crews from the three Detroit TV stations as well as the two Detroit dailies. It was spiced by such newsworthy nuggets as the hostage victim was at home recovering from recent surgery when the suspect entered her house and that the day before the woman’s twin daughters had narrowly escaped serious injury when a tornado roared through Kalamazoo.

Several years later, the city was back in the news spotlight again when a deliberately set fire engulfed the massive Ford Motor Co. plant in town, spewing toxic fumes that forced the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residents. Police officials theorized that the fire was set to detract attention from a shipping lane where truckloads of stolen materials were being removed from the plant.

The story, complete with a series of eye-catching photos, one of which was carried by publications around the state, warranted a second press run for the first time in the paper’s history.

Of course, not all stories produce a deadline-driven adrenaline rush. And yet, there is still something profound about the daily grind of the newspaper business, in which deadlines serve as meaningful inspiration for every writer, editor, photographer, cartoonist, ad-builder, and page designer.

As a 40-year milestone approaches, I look back at a career choice that has offered opportunities to work with some of the best and brightest in the business, an industry that continues to soldier on despite various setbacks that have claimed once proud publishing companies from coast to coast.

Of equal importance has been the pleasure of telling the stories of those we cover in the community, developing a special appreciation for the time and talent they have devoted to various professional and charitable causes. Recounting their good works will continue to fuel my newspaper soul, which even in these politically trying times has been recharged for the long run.


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