TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Grant Parpan (center) moderating last month’s legislative debate at Martha Clara Vineyards.
Ten years ago this month, I was managing a video store in a Los Angeles suburb, still unsure where life would take me.
One day on lunch break, I was sitting in my car reading a local paper when I noticed a classified ad for a part-time sportswriter.
As a young man whose mom always said I taught myself to read at age 3 so I could follow the Mets game recaps in Newsday, covering sports was something I really wanted to try.
After passing a freelance test assignment, I ended up getting the job and, before long I’d worked my way into a full-time staff position.
No longer employed at a video store, I was suddenly a newspaper man. (Newspapers? Video stores? I know how to pick professions, right? Also on my shortlist of potential careers were village blacksmith, town lamplighter, neighborhood milkman or courier for the Pony Express.)
It’s been quite a decade in newspapers. My career has taken me back home, introduced me to my beautiful wife and given me the unique opportunity to tell other people’s stories — the good and the bad.
Last week, I attended Roy Laine’s 100th birthday party. I grew up two miles from Roy’s home in Wading River but would never have had the good fortune of meeting the man if not for this job.
During the party, his friend Fred Conway said to him, “Roy, I’ve never met anyone else who reached 100,” to which the birthday boy joked, “Neither have I.”
But not me. In fact, it was the second 100th birthday party I’d attended in a year. Not many career paths can so frequently take you places you’d never go otherwise.
When I speak to classes at area schools, I always start off by asking the students what they want to do for a living. I write down all the occupations they mention. Even in high school and college journalism classes, students don’t necessarily want to be reporters. Usually the list looks something like this: baseball player, doctor, actor, mechanic, teacher, etc.
While I never had the opportunity to be any of those things myself, my job has enabled me to take a peek into the lives of the folks who live in these worlds.
I never threw a one-hitter for the Mets, but I saw Steve Trachsel do just that on the very first day I covered a Major League game. I also never got to spend an afternoon at the Bada Bing, but I once got to ask a local actor what it was like to film a scene in the bar for “The Sopranos.”
So far in my career, the folks I’ve written about have taken me along on their greatest journeys — to Antarctica, the NFL draft and the Olympic medal stand. They’ve also shared with me their harrowing ordeals of homelessness, life in prison and the loss of the person they loved most.
Of course, not every story captures someone’s greatest or worst moments and it’s often the stories somewhere in between the highs and lows that have the greatest impact on the reader. People love to see familiar names and faces in the newspapers, and there’s nothing quite like being able to tell people something they didn’t know about their friends and neighbors.
I’ve never understood reporters and editors stressing about how they’ll fill their newspapers. Even in small communities like the ones we cover, there are endless stories to tell each day. Anyone seeking proof of that need look no further than this newspaper’s archives or visit our website as it’s constantly updated every day.
Serving as executive editor of your community newspaper is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Each morning I’m genuinely excited to come to work to help tell the stories that are important to you.
When I moved into this role seven months ago — after spending the past two years helping to grow this company’s presence on the web and the five years before that editing our former newspaper in Brookhaven — I failed to use this space to introduce myself to those I’ve never met.
I welcome any feedback you all have for me at the email below. If you’d prefer to speak with me, my direct line is 631-354-8046. Of course, you can always drop by our office in Mattituck, too.
This past decade has been the best of my life and I eagerly anticipate many more years of telling your stories on the pages of this community newspaper.
I couldn’t think of a better career path for a guy like me.