Although I’ve been proud of most people with whom I’ve been associated, some stand out and make me think I might have made a good journalism professor.
It’s those we sort of kick-started or otherwise boosted past that first rung on the professional ladder that make us want to swell with pride and brag.
Now, I don’t profess to have taught anyone everything they know, but there are four people to whom I gave some initial on-the-job instruction, that have perhaps made my chest swell more than most.
The first on my list came to this business in mid-life, with no journalism experience. Helen Smith was 49 when I interviewed her for the newly titled job of Women’s Editor for The Conroe Courier. She was extremely bright, well educated, sophisticated and had great taste.
She and I recreated and expanded the former “society” section of the paper. She did it with delightfully infectious fervor. Our Women’s Section became the talk of the town. Men called to say they enjoyed the in-depth features we led the section with each Wednesday and Sunday.
Helen was more valuable to our paper than the managing editor. She went straight from Conroe to being a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution.
One day, our photographer was on assignment, so Helen took some pictures she’d set up. The photographer didn’t like it, chewed her out and made her cry. I fired him.
Next on my honor grad list would be Jan Jarboe Russell. Yep, that Jan Jarboe Russell. We became acquainted when I published The Advocate in her native Cleveland. As a high school senior she was in a local civic club scholarship pageant I organized.
After a freshman year in teachers’ college, preparing to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she decided to switch to journalism and attend the University of Texas. She worked for me at The Advocate that summer.
FROM THERE, she went to the San Antonio Light and impressed them so much they promoted her to Hearst Newspapers Washington bureau. She returned to San Antonio to work for the Express-News. Jan has written three books, the first a biography of Lady Bird Johnson, which required extensive interviewing and visits with the late First Lady. She is out of newspapers at the moment, but makes occasional speeches or gives lectures at educational institutions.
The third member and only male of the group is Michael Journee, a native of Jasper who, after gaining his J-degree, came to work at The Jasper Newsboy. He covered the investigation and first trial of the defendants in the infamous, race-hate dragging death of James Byrd Jr.
Mike went to work at a newspaper in Pocatello, Idaho, then moved to a newspaper in the state capitol, Boise. From there, he went to Boise State University in their public information office before becoming an aide to the Idaho governor. He later returned to Boise State where he is currently director of advancement communication.
THE FOURTH member of my honors class was the advertising salesperson for the Lockhart Post Register when I became the publisher. She later became the business manager, because, as I told her, “You suck at sales.” She admitted her idea of sales was, “You don’t wanna buy an ad this week, do you?”
She later handled the business office at Fredericksburg Radio Post, then taught school for a while.
Later, she taught in Missouri City and Jasper before going back into the news business and became a regular award-winning contributing editor at The Jasper Newsboy. For seven years, she covered such stories as the trials of two men accused in the race-hate dragging death of James Byrd Jr., the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia crash, a 17,000-acre forest fire and county government.
Her county government coverage was so efficient that she scared the daylights out of several good ol’ boy politicians and shined enough light on their dark little mushroom farms that they couldn’t grow any more.
Who is she?
Oh, I married her 30 years ago in Lockhart. Her name is Julie Bollinger Webb. Many of her award plaques cover my home office (“Man Cave”) wall.
And, that’s my honor graduate class of four that makes my chest swell with great pride.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.